Take a Bow

Question #1: Davening in Public

“I am traveling, and the only place to daven is in a crowded terminal. Are there any special laws that I need to know?”

Question #2: Bowing or Genuflecting?

Have you ever genuflected?

Question #3: Bow and Arrow!

Does bowing have anything to do with bows and arrows?

Introduction:

Parshas Chayei Sarah mentions that Avraham bowed to the descendants of Cheis, when they agreed to give him a burial area for Sarah (Bereishis 23:7). The parsha also mentions that Eliezer bowed to Hashem to thank Him that his mission appeared to be achieving success. These provide a special opportunity to discuss some of the laws of bowing during the shemoneh esrei. As there is far more to this topic than can be covered in one article, we will, bli neder, have to return to the topic at some time in the future.

Thirteen components of tefillah

The Rambam rules that our daily mitzvah to daven includes thirteen factors, five of which are essential components of prayer that, if missing, require that davening be repeated. The headings of these five requirements are: Clean hands, proper covering of the body, cleanliness of the location, absence of physical bodily distractions, and proper focus (kavanah).

The other eight categories are important aspects for discharging the mitzvah, but someone who did not, or could not, observe them has still fulfilled the mitzvah. For example, there is a requirement to daven shemoneh esrei while standing and while facing the Beis Hamikdash. However, if someone could not, or did not, do either, he has fulfilled his mitzvah. Similarly, there is a requirement to bow at points during the shemoneh esrei, but someone who did not do so has fulfilled his mitzvah.

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10) explains that, for most people, davening requires that we bow five times in the course of the recital of the shemoneh esrei. I will explain shortly why I wrote “for most people.”

These five times are:

At the beginning and end of the first brocha of shemoneh esrei

At the beginning and end of the brocha of modim

At the very end of the shemoneh esrei

Most people?

Why did I say that the requirement to bow five times at every prayer is for “most people?”

This is because the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10) alludes to the following passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Brochos 1:5): “For the following brochos, one should bow: For the first brocha, both at the beginning and at the end, and for modim, both at the beginning and at the end. Someone who bows for every brocha should be taught not to do this. (See also Tosefta, Brochos 1:11 and Bavli, Brochos 34a.) Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman cited in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, ‘A kohein gadol bows at the end of every brocha; the king, at both the beginning and end of every brocha. Rabbi Simon quoted from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, ‘The king – once he bows, he does not straighten up until he completes his entire prayer. What is my source? The verse that teaches, and it was when Shelomoh completed praying to Hashem this entire prayer and this entire supplication, that he then stood up from before the mizbei’ach of Hashem from bowing on his knees (Melachim I 8, 54).’”

We see that there is a dispute between Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman and Rabbi Simon (his name is not Shimon, but Simon, spelled with a samech, and he is an amora frequently quoted in the Yerushalmi) whether Shelomoh Hamelech teaches us that a king should always daven shemoneh esrei while kneeling, or whether this was a one-time practice, but not something that a king is always required to do.

Thus, those whom the Torah insists receive much honor must bow more frequently during their daily tefillah. The kohein gadol is required to bow in every brocha of shemoneh esrei, which is forbidden for everyone else, as we see in the above-referenced Tosefta. The Rambam rules according to Rabbi Simon, that the king, who receives much greater honor, is required to bow for his entire prayer.

Term limits?

This poses a question: The Tosefta rules that we should not bow in every brocha of shemoneh esrei; yet, we have now been taught that both the kohein gadol and the king should bow in each brocha of shemoneh esrei. How can it be that something is forbidden for everyone else and is required of the kohein gadol and the king?

The answer to this question seems to lie in the following explanation of Tosafos (Brochos 34a s.v. melamdin), who asks, “What is wrong with bowing extra times?” Tosafos provides two answers to the question (see also Tosafos Rabbeinu Yehudah and Bach, Orach Chayim 113):

1. If people develop the habit of bowing whenever they want to, it will cause Chazal’s takkanah (requiring that we bow at the beginning and end of only these two brochos) to become uprooted. Therefore, we insist that they not bow any extra times.

2. It is being ostentatious about his religious observance, a halachic concept called yohara.

The Tur (Orach Chayim 113) rules according to Tosafos. Based on Tosafos’s first answer, he concludes that it is permitted to bow in the middle of any brocha of shemoneh esrei, just not at the beginning or end.

We can also explain why Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman ruled that the kohein gadol and the king bowing in each brocha does not violate the ruling of the Tosefta. This was the takkanah – that a commoner bow only in two brochos, and the kohein gadol and king bow in each brocha.

When the bow breaks

As I mentioned above, the halacha is that bowing is not essential, which means that you fulfill the mitzvah to daven, even if you did not bow. There are extenuating circumstances in which you are not permitted to bow, but you are required to daven without bowing. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 113:8) cites such a case — someone who must daven in a public place, and a person opposite him is sporting a cross or other idolatrous image. The halacha is that you should daven but you should not bow, so that a bystander not think that you are bowing to the image.

Don’t bow to idols!

At this point, we can address our opening question: “I am traveling, and the only place to daven is in a crowded terminal. Are there any special laws that I need to know?”

The answer is that you should look around to see if any of your co-travelers are sporting crosses or other signs of idolatry, and, if they are, do not bow during your davening.

Take a bow

The Rambam mentioned that we are required to bow five times, including another time at the end of the shemoneh esrei, whose source is from a different passage of Gemara (Yoma 53b). “Rabbi Chiya, the son of Rav Huna, reported that he saw that Abayei and Rava would take three steps back while bowing.” This passage of Gemara is quoted not only by the Rambam, but also by the Rif and the Rosh (both at the end of the fifth chapter of Brochos, after they quote the other halachos about bowing during davening). Because of space considerations, we will have to leave the detailed discussion of the topic of bowing at the end of shemoneh esrei for a different time.

How can you bow?

We now have some background to understand the words of the Rambam and the other rishonim who rule that we are required to bow five times during the shemoneh esrei. However, we do not yet know what type of bowing is required. We do know  from the verse in Melachim quoted above that when Shelomoh Hamelech bowed, he actually kneeled with both knees on the ground. We do not usually consider this to be a Jewish way of prayer, but associate it with other religions. What does the Torah teach about this?

In Tanach and Chazal we find at least five different levels of bowing, each with its own defining terms.

Hishtachavayah

Hishtachavayah is bowing in which a person is completely prostrate, with arms and legs stretched out completely flat on the ground(Megillah 22b; Shavuos 16b). The Gemara proves this from the rebuke that Yaakov gave to Yosef, after the latter told his father about his dream, havo navo ani ve’imcha ve’achecha lehishtachavos lecha artzah, “Will it happen that I, your mother and your brothers will bow (root: hishtachavayah) down to you to the ground?” Thus, we see that the word hishtachavayah refers to bowing all the way to the ground.

This type of bowing is mentioned several times in Tanach and the Gemara. Some people bow this way during the repetition of musaf on Yom Kippur when we “fall kor’im.”

Kidah

Kidah is kneeling and placing one’s face against the floor. On the basis of a posuk (Melachim I 1:31), the Gemara (Brochos 34b; Megillah 22b; Shavuos 16b) proves that this is the meaning of the word kidah. If you have ever seen how Moslems pray, this is what kidah is.

Korei’a al birkav

Korei’a al birkav ­is called, in English, kneeling. As I mentioned above, this is what the posuk describes Shelomoh Hamelech doing when he dedicated the Beis Hamikdash (Melachim I 8:54).

Shocheh

Shocheh is what in English is called bowing, which means lowering your head and upper part of your torso, but remain standing on your feet.

Kor’im

Kor’im or more accurately, keri’a (the root is spelled kof, reish, ayin, not to be confused with the word for reading, which is spelled kuf, reish, alef) is used at times to mean when you bow and also bend your knees as part of your bowing. In English, this is called genuflecting.

How do we bow?

The Gemara (Brochos 12a), cited by the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10), rules: “Someone who is praying should bow at the word Boruch, and straighten himself to an upright position when he says the name of Hashem.” The Gemara continues: “Rav Sheishes, when he bowed, bowed down like a stick, when he straightened himself upright, he straightened himself like a snake.” Although there are other interpretations of this passage of Gemara, Rashi explains that Rav Sheishes bowed down in one motion, but when he straightened himself upright upon reciting the name of Hashem, he did so in two motions, his head first, and then the rest of his body, so that he should not give the impression that bowing was something that he did not want to do. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10) and the later authorities codify this as the proper method of bowing in shemoneh esrei. To quote the Rambam, “How should one bow? When he says Boruch, he should bend his knees; upon saying Attah, he should bow quickly; and upon saying Hashem’s name, he should slowly rise, his head first and then his body.” However, an older or ill person is not required to bow with his entire body, and it is sufficient if he simply bends his head. This last ruling is quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 113:5.)

Modim

In three of the places in the shemoneh esrei when we bow, we do so when saying the words Boruch Attah Hashem, and, according to the instructions that we have studied, we now know how to genuflect and bow when we say these prayers. However, the other two places, at the end of davening, and for modim, there is no “Boruch” in the tefillah when we bow. Therefore, at these places, common custom is to bow, but not genuflect (Mishnah Berurah).

Bow like a bow

This subtitle is not meant to be a corny pun, but an expression of the halacha. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:12) rules: “All these bowings require that one bow until all the vertebrae in the spine protrude and (his back) is shaped like a bow.” In Hebrew, this is not a pun: the word for bow, keshes, and the word for bowing, korei’a,bear no similarity.

The source for the Rambam’s explanation is from the following passage of Gemara (Brochos 28b): Rav Tanchum quoted from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, someone who is praying must bow until all the vertebrae in his spine protrude. Ulla said: Until a coin the size of an issar can be seen opposite his heart. Rav Chanina said, once he tilted his head, he is not required to do more. Rava explained Rav Chanina to mean that this is true when it is obvious that he is trying to bow more, but he is unable to do so, because of age or infirmity (see Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 113).

The halachic authorities also rule that someone should not bow so low that his mouth is opposite his belt (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 113:5). This is because it looks like he is trying to show off (Mishnah Berurah).

Bowing or genuflecting?

At this point, let us refer to our second opening question: Have you ever genuflected?

Since we bend our knees when we say the word boruch, someone who davens three times a day and bows by bending his knees at the beginning and end of the first brocha and at the end of modim genuflects nine times a day. Thus, the surprising answer is that you probably genuflect many times a day, without knowing that you are doing so!

Genuflect, kneel, korei’a

There is a very interesting linguistic curiosity that I want to point out. The word genuflect comes from a contraction of two words, genu, related to knee, and flect, which means to bend. (Think of the English verbs deflect, flex.) Language experts explain that the origin of the word genu,which is Latin, and the words, knee and kneel, which are German, are of common origin, both coming from a common cognate ancestor that refers to the knee. This association is very surprising, because old German and pre-Latin languages, although both of Indo-European origin, have few common sources. When there are common roots in both, the origin of the word can invariably be traced to the time of the dor ha’pelagah, when the scattering of the nations occurred and the languages of mankind became divided. In these instances, the true root of the word is invariably Hebrew, notwithstanding that linguists categorize Hebrew as a Semitic language and not Indo-European. This rule bears true here again, once we realize that it is not unusual that a reish sound becomes a nun when changing languages, as in the example of Nevuchadnetzar, called Nevuchadretzar at times. Thus, since, according to Chazal (see Yoma 10a), German is the older of the two languages (German and Latin), clearly the original root was kof, reish, ayin, the shoresh of the word korei’a, which means to bow on one’s knee or knees, or to genuflect or kneel, with the reish becoming an “n” sound, first in German and then later in Latin. Thus, the English words knee and kneel and the Latin word genu all originate from the Hebrew word korei’a, or, more accurately, its root, kof, reish, ayin.

Conclusion

The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them! Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening are unique in the entire spectrum of creation.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of all Klal Yisrael!

Bishul Akum for the Ill

Photo by rea einskisson from FreeImages

Question #1: Cooked on Shabbos

If a non-Jew cooks on Shabbos for someone who is ill, is the food he cooks prohibited because of bishul akum? Obviously, the ill person is permitted to eat the food, but there are several ramifications to this question.

Question #2: Bishul akum equipment

If a non-Jew cooked using my pots, do they require kashering because they absorbed non-kosher food?

Background:

Chazal instituted the law of bishul akum to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which could lead to intermarriage, and also to guarantee that kashrus not be compromised (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s.v. Vehashelakos and38a s.v. Miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.).

There are two major exceptions to the law of bishul akum – that is, situations in which a non-Jew cooked food that one may eat, despite the prohibition against bishul akum. One exception is food that is usually eaten raw, such as an apple. Therefore, if a non-Jew baked apples and did not use anything non-kosher while doing so, the apples are kosher.

Another exception is something that would not be served on a king’s table. There are many interpretations as to how to define this, but all poskim agree that small fish and porridge are permitted when cooked by a non-Jew, as long as nothing non-kosher was added – because these items are not served to a king.

This article will discuss a possible third exception to bishul akum: Food cooked by a non-Jew on Shabbos for someone who is ill.

Bishul akum for the ill

In a different article, we learned that we may ask a non-Jew to do on Shabbos whatever is required for the care of a person who is ill, even asking a non-Jew to cook for the sick person. This is permitted even if no life-threatening emergency exists, as long as the person is ill enough to be choleh kol gufo, usually defined as someone ill enough to go to bed (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 328:17), or whose discomfort is intense enough that he feels that his entire body is affected (Rema ad locum).

In the previous article, I did not discuss an important question: If food cooked by a non-Jew is prohibited because of bishul akum, how can a Jewish person eat what the non-Jew cooked? There are two obvious answers to this question:

1. Food cooked by a non-Jew to take care of a sick person was excluded from the prohibition of bishul akum.

2. Because of his medical needs, a choleh kol gufo is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum.

In either event, we have several follow-up questions:

Does this heter apply only to what is cooked on Shabbos, when a Jew may not cook for the sick person, or does it apply all the time? If this dispensation applies only to what a non-Jew cooked on Shabbos,is the ill person permitted to eat the leftovers after Shabbos, or does that food become prohibited once a Jew can cook for him? And, assuming that the sick person is permitted to eat the food after Shabbos, is it permitted for a different Jew, who is perfectly healthy, to eat what the non-Jew cooked on Shabbos?

Does bishul akum affect pots?

Finally, if the non-Jew used a Jew’s kosher pots to cook for the ill on Shabbos, do the pots become non-kosher because they absorbed bishul akum? If so, do the pots now need to be koshered before they may be used again? Or, since it is permitted to ask the non-Jew to cook for the Jewish ill, do the pots not need to be koshered afterward? Or, an even more lenient idea: perhaps bishul akum applies only to food, but does not prohibit pots at all?

This entire list of questions is discussed and debated by the rishonim. Their differing approaches provide a goldmine for the scholar attempting to analyze critically the legal (halachic) status of bishul akum and to comprehend clearly Chazal’s ruling permitting asking a non-Jew to cook for the ill. As we will soon see, there are various ways to answer the questions that we raised, and differences in halachic opinion affect decisions made in kosher nursing homes and hospital to this very day.

Explaining these issues also affords an opportunity to understand an important chapter in Jewish history that is not as well known as it should be.

Debate in Barcelona

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia, the northeastern region of the country. Today, there is a tiny Jewish presence in the city, but, in the times of the rishonim, Barcelona was a major headquarters of Torah. At different times, many gedolei Yisroel lived in the city, including the Raavad, the Ramban, Rav Yehudah Bartzeloni, theRashba, the Rosh (who had fled from Germany, which had become very dangerous for rabbonim), the Rosh’s distinguished sons (including his son Yaakov, who later  authored the Tur), Rav Aharon Halevi (known as the Re’ah), the Ohr Hashem (Rav Chasdai Kreskas), the Ritva, and the Nimukei Yosef, to list some of the better-known gedolim who walked the streets of this city.

In the thirteenth century, three major halachic works appeared in Barcelona in quick succession. These works clarified the halachos observed in a frum house. The first, written by theRashba, was aptly called Toras Habayis (literally, the laws of the house), whichdiscussed, in very organized and detailed fashion, the laws of kashrus, mikveh, netilas yadayim and other household laws. It was actually two different works. One, a brief edition called the Toras Habayis Hakatzar, offered instructions for household owners to manage their homes in accordance with halacha. The other, Toras Habayis He’aruch,is an extensive and thorough explanation of the halachic background to the topics, quoting the original sources in the Mishnah, Gemara, and early authorities. It discusses and explains the arguments, sources and opinions cited by the various great, early poskim on the subject, and then the Rashba reaches his conclusion.

Shortly after the Toras Habayis saw the light of day, another work, called Bedek Habayis (literally, inspections [or repairs] of the house) appeared, written by Rav Aharon Halevi ( the Re’ah) exclusively to disagree with the conclusions of the Toras Habayis. The Bedek Habayis went to great length to demonstrate where he felt the Toras Habayis’s analysis and comparisons were incorrect.

Eventually, a third work was produced anonymously, called the Mishmeres Habayis (protecting the house), the purpose of which was to explain that the original Toras Habayis’s conclusions had been correct and that the Bedek Habayis was incorrect.

These works were all produced before the invention of the printing press, which means that they were circulated via copying them by hand.

The mystery is discovered

At first, the members of the community were baffled trying to identify the author of the Mishmeres Habayis. This should indicate the high level of Talmudic scholarship that existed then in Barcelona – apparently, there were enough Torah scholars in Barcelona capable of writing such an incredibly scholarly work that it could be published anonymously, without the identity of its author being immediately obvious.

Eventually, it was discovered that the author of the Mishmeres Habayis was none other than theRashba himself.

At this point, let us return to our topic, and to our original opening questions:

1. If a non-Jew cooks on Shabbos for someone who is ill, is the food he cooks prohibited because of bishul akum?

2. If a non-Jew cooked using my pots, do they require kashering because they absorbed non-kosher food?

Opinion of the Re’ah

Although the Toras Habayis does not discuss these topics, both the Bedek Habayis and the Mishmeres Habayis do. The Bedek Habayis (Bayis 3 Shaar 7) concludes that:

1. Food cooked by a non-Jew to take care of the needs of someone ill does not carry the prohibition of bishul akum.

2. Bishul akum does not affect equipment.

The Bedek Habayis permits the first case for the following reason: At the time this food was cooked, it was permitted to be eaten. A person who is well may not eat it because of the laws of Shabbos – we are concerned that someone may ask the non-Jew to do something on Shabbos that is not permitted for a Jew to do – but not because of the prohibition of bishul akum. Since the cooking was performed not for social reasons but in order to have fresh food for ill people, no prohibition of bishul akum was incurred at the time that the food was cooked. Therefore, it cannot become prohibited as bishul akum after Shabbos is over. The Re’ah concludes that the food cooked by a non-Jew for an ill Jewish person on Shabbos is permitted after Shabbos, even for a perfectly healthy person.

Furthermore, reasons the Bedek Habayis, should a non-Jew cook for himself in a kosher pot, the food is prohibited because of bishul akum but the pot itself remains kosher. The reason is that the use of this pot does not create any favorable social interaction between Jews and non-Jews that we must avoid. In other words, the Bedek Habayis contends that since the prohibition of bishul akum was limited to situations that encourage social interaction, the taste of bishul akum that is absorbed into pots was never prohibited. Enjoying the residual taste remaining in a pot does not encourage unwanted social interaction.

The Bedek Habayis then quotes Rav Yitzchak beRabbi Manoach, who rules that what a non-Jewish slave cooks as part of the responsibility to the household that owns him or her is not prohibited as bishul akum, since there is no increased social interaction when someone cooks as an aspect of being a slave. The point of the Bedek Habayis is that Rav Yitzchak beRabbi Manoach contends that eating what a gentile cooked is not included in the prohibition of bishul akum when the circumstances do not encourage social interaction – and certainly the residual absorption in the pots is permitted.

The Bedek Habayis then quotes from “mori rabbeinu Moshe, z”l,” the Ramban (who had headed a yeshivah in Barcelona and was the Re’ah’s primary rebbe), that, lechatchilah, cooking in a Jewish house should not be performed by a non-Jewish slave – but if it was, the food is permitted bedi’eved.

TheRashba’s response

TheRashba, in his Mishmeres Habayis, disagrees with every point made by the Re’ah in the Bedek Habayis. He compares a non-Jew cooking food for an ill person on Shabbos to the situation of a person who is deathly ill and there is no fresh meat to eat. The halacha in the latter situation is that, if no shocheit is available, you are required to kill an animal, rendering its meat neveilah, and cook it for the sick person. As soon as a shocheit becomes available, you are no longer permitted to feed the sick person non-kosher. Of course, the pot in which the neveilah was cooked is not kosher and must be koshered. Similarly, Mishmeres Habayis contends that although it is permitted to have a non-Jew cook for someone ill, the food is permitted to be eaten only by the ill and only until there is enough time after Shabbos to cook fresh food. Once that time arrives, all the food that was cooked by the non-Jew becomes prohibited as bishul akum, even for the sick person, and certainly it was never permitted for someone well to eat. In addition, the previously kosher pot used by the non-Jew to cook for the ill on Shabbos is prohibited because of the bishul akum absorbed in it, and the pot must be koshered before it can be used again.

The Mishmeres Habayis explains the basis for this law as the general rule, “kol detikun rabbanan ke’ein de’oraysa tikun,”whatever the Sages established they did in a system similar to the rules of the Torah” (Pesachim 30b, 39b, et al.). Therefore, when Chazal created the prohibition of bishul akum, they gave the prohibited product all the rules that apply to items prohibited min haTorah. Thus, we see that Barcelona was the scene of a major halachic controversy that has ramifications to this very day.

How do we rule?

Well, who is “we”? The Ran (Shu”t Haran 5:11-12), the primary Spanish halachic authority in the generation following theRashba and Re’ah, discusses the second question, whether bishul akum prohibits the equipment used to cook it. He opines that logically the prohibition of bishul akum should apply only to the food prepared and not to the equipment in which it was produced, since concerns about social interaction apply only to the food, and not to the equipment. However, that since there are poskim who disagreed with the Re’ah, the Ran concludes that it is preferable to have the equipment koshered, and, if this food was cooked in an earthenware pot (which cannot be kashered), the earthenware pot should be broken (see Pesachim 30b; Avodah Zarah 33b-34a).

Two contemporaries of the Ran also weigh in on the question of whether we require kashering of equipment in which bishul akum occurred. The Tur (end of Yoreh Deah 113) quotes that theRashba required kashering equipment that cooked bishul akum, even if it was a case of non-Jewish servants who cooked in a Jew’s house. He notes that theRashba holds that, to avoid prohibiting the pots, when non-Jewish workers cook for themselves in a Jewish house, someone Jewish must participate in the cooking, in a way that avoids the prohibition of bishul akum.

The Tur himself does not conclude this way. He quotes that his father, the Rosh, a contemporary of theRashba, contends that Chazal prohibited only the food of bishul akum, but did not extend the prohibition to flavor absorbed into pots and other equipment. In other words, the Rosh accepts the approach of the Re’ah that bishul akum is different from other proscriptions and is prohibited only to the extent that it would cause unwanted social interactions.

The other contemporary of the Ran who discusses this issue is Rabbeinu Yerucham, a disciple of the Rosh, who writes that most authorities agreed with the Rosh that bishul akum does not create a prohibition on the equipment used to cook it. However, the Beis Yosef, after quoting Rabbeinu Yerucham, disagrees with his conclusion that most authorities accept the Rosh’s opinion. The Beis Yosef writes that most authorities who lived after theera of the Rashba, Re’ah and Rosh accept the opinion of theRashba as the conclusive halacha. In Shulchan Aruch,he mentions both approaches, but concludes that the main approach is that equipment used for bishul akum does require kashering.

Three times lucky

Above, I quoted the Ran who states that if bishul akum prohibits the vessels, if an earthenware pot was used, the pot must be broken. However, theRashba himself did not rule this way. This is based on a passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Terumos 11:4) that rules that a lenience applies when a prohibition is rabbinic in origin, which is the case of bishul akum. In these circumstances, Chazal permitted kashering earthenware by boiling the vessel three times(Rashba, quoted by Tur Yoreh Deah 123). This ruling is accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 113:16).

What about for the ill?

Above, we mentioned that theRashba and Re’ah also disagreed about whether food cooked by a non-Jew on Shabbos for a Jewish person who is ill is prohibited as bishul akum. How do we rule on this question? Again, it depends on whom you ask: The Rema and the Shach conclude that the food is permitted after Shabbos, even for a healthy person, whereas the Taz, Mishnah Berurah (328:63) and others rule that it is prohibited even for the ill person once food cooked by a Jew becomes available.

Conclusion

According to the Rambam, the reason Chazal prohibited asking a non-Jew to do work on Shabbos is in order not to diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Refraining from having even a non-Jew work is testimony to our deep conviction that Hashem created the world.

We have just learned an exception to this rule: When someone is ill, we are permitted to ask a non-Jew to cook for him. This will not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves, but will increase our sensitivity to the needs of the ill and the mitzvah of bikur cholim, ensuring that we attend to their needs as best as we can.

The Torah’s Instructions to Non-Jews—The Laws of Bnei Noach

This article is dedicated to the memory of my much beloved and missed brother-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Azar, a very exceptional and popular teacher at various seminaries, who lost his protracted battle with cancer this past week. Rav Yosef leaves behind a widow, my sister Yocheved, and ten children, eight of whom are still living at home; the youngest is only five years old.

Although it may seem strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, it should actually be commonplace. After all, there are hundreds of times more non-Jews than Jews in the world, and each one of them should be concerned about his or her halachic responsibility. Many non-Jews are indeed concerned about their future place in Olam Haba, and had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, many thousands more would observe the mitzvos that they are commanded. It is tragic that they have been misled into false beliefs and practices.

An entire body of literature discusses the mitzvah responsibilities of non-Jews. Although it was Adam who was originally commanded to observe these mitzvos, they are usually referred to as the “Seven Mitzvos of Bnei Noach,” since all of mankind is descended from Noach.

Furthermore, a Jew should be familiar with the halachos that apply to a non-Jew, since it is forbidden to cause a non-Jew to transgress his mitzvos. This is included under the Torah’s violation of lifnei iver lo sitein michshol, “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person.” In this case, this means do not cause someone to sin, if he is blind to the severity of his violation (Avodah Zarah 6b).

In actuality, a non-Jew must observe more than seven mitzvos. The “Seven Mitzvos” are really categories; furthermore, there are additional mitzvos that apply, as we will explain.

THE BASICS

The seven cardinal prohibitions that apply to a non-Jew are:

1. AVODAH ZARAH

It is forbidden for a non-Jew to worship idols in any way. Most religions of the world are idolatrous, particularly the major religions of the East.

Although Christianity constitutes idol worship for a Jew, there is a dispute whether it is idolatry for a ben Noach. Some poskim contend that its concepts of G-d do not violate the prohibition against Avodah Zarah that was commanded to Adam and Noach (Tosafos, Bechoros 2b s.v. Shema; Rama, Orach Chayim 156). However, most later poskim contend that Christian belief does constitute Avodah Zarah, even for a non-Jew (Shu’t Noda BiYehudah, Tenina, Yoreh Deah #148; Chazon Ish, Likutim, Sanhedrin 63b p. 536). In this regard, there is a widespread misconception among Jews that only Catholicism is Avodah Zarah, but not Protestantism. This is untrue. Every branch and type of Christianity includes idolatrous beliefs.

2. GILUY ARAYOS, which prohibits many illicit relationships.

3. MURDER, including abortion (Sanhedrin 57b), suicide, and mercy killing.

4. EIVER MIN HACHAI, eating flesh taken from a live animal.

This prohibition includes eating a limb or flesh removed from an animal while it was alive, even if the animal is now dead.

In the context of this mitzvah, the Rishonim raise an interesting question. Adam was forbidden to eat meat (see Bereishis 1:29-30), but, after the Flood, Noach was permitted to do so (Bereishis 9:3; see Rashi in both places). So, why was Adam prohibited from eating flesh of a living animal, if he was prohibited from eating meat altogether?

Two differing approaches are presented to answer this question. The Rambam explains that the prohibition to eat meat that was given to Adam was rescinded after the Flood, and it was then that the prohibition of Eiver Min HaChai was commanded to Noach for the first time (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:1). According to this approach, six of the present day “Seven Mitzvos” were commanded to Adam, while the seventh was commanded only at the time of Noach.

Other Rishonim contend that Adam was permitted to eat the meat of an animal that was already dead, and was prohibited only from killing animals for food. In addition, he was prohibited to eat meat that was removed from a living animal, and this prohibition is one of the “Seven Mitzvos” (Rashi, Sanhedrin 57a s.v. Lemishri and Bereishis 1:29; Tosafos, Sanhedrin 56b s.v. Achal). The first prohibition was rescinded after the Flood, when mankind was permitted to slaughter animals for food. Thus, according to the Rambam, Adam was prohibited both from killing animals and from eating any meat, while according to the other Rishonim, he was prohibited from killing animals but allowed to eat meat.

ANIMAL BLOOD

Although a non-Jew may not eat the flesh of a living animal, he may eat blood drawn from a living animal (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:10; cf. Sanhedrin 56b and 59a, and Rashi, Bereishis 9:3). Some African tribesmen extract blood from their livestock, mix it with milk, and drink it for a nutritious beverage. Although we may consider this practice very offensive, it does not in any way violate the mitzvos for a non-Jew.

5. BLASPHEMY.

Cursing Hashem. As with his other mitzvos, a non-Jew may not claim that he was unaware it is forbidden.

6. STEALING.

This prohibition includes taking even a very small item that does not belong to him, eating something of the owner’s food on the job without permission, or not paying his employees or contractors (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:9). According to some opinions, it includes not paying his workers or contractors on time (Meiri, Sanhedrin).

7. DINIM, literally, laws.

This mitzvah includes the application of a code of civil law, including laws of damages, torts, loans, assault, cheating, and commerce (Ramban, Breishis 34:13; cf. Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14). Furthermore, there is a requirement to establish courts in every city and region, to guarantee that people observe their mitzvos (Sanhedrin 56b; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14).

ARE NON-JEWS REQUIRED TO OBSERVE THE COMMERCIAL LAW OF THE TORAH?

Does the mitzvah of Dinim require non-Jews to establish their own system of law, or is the mitzvah to observe and enforce the Torah’s mitzvos, which we usually refer to as the halachos of Choshen Mishpat?

In a long teshuvah, the Rama (Shu’t #10) contends that this question is disputed by Amora’im in the Gemara. He concludes that non-Jews are required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat, just like Jews. Following this approach, a non-Jew may not sue in a civil court that uses any system of law other than that of the Torah. Instead, he must litigate in a beis din or in a court of non-Jewish judges who follow halachic guidelines (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:11). Therefore, a non-Jew who accepts money on the basis of civil litigation is considered stealing, just like a Jew. The Rama’s opinion is accepted by many early poskim (e.g., Tumim 110:3; Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #91).

However, the Netziv disagrees with the Rama, contending that non-Jews are not obligated to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat. In his opinion, the Torah requires non-Jews to create their own legal rules and procedures. Although a Jew is forbidden from using the non-Jewish court system and laws, according to the Netziv a non-Jew may use secular courts to resolve his litigation and indeed fulfills a mitzvah when doing so (HaEmek Shaylah #2:3). Other poskim accept the Netziv’s position (Chazon Ish, Bava Kama 10:1). Several major poskim contend that the dispute between the Rama and Netziv is an earlier dispute between the Rambam and Ramban (Shu’t Maharam Schick, Orach Chayim #142; Shu’t Maharsham 4:86; Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Choshen Mishpat #55).

What is a non-Jew to do if he wishes to sue someone? May he litigate in civil court or must he sue in beis din? Because this subject is disputed, we would have to decide whether the rule of safek de’oraysa lechumra (we are strict regarding a doubt concerning a Torah law) applies to a non-Jew. If the non-Jew asks how to proceed in the most mehadrin fashion, we would tell him to take his matter to beis din, because this is permitted (and a mitzvah) according to all opinions.

It should be noted that, according to both opinions, a non-Jew must observe dina demalchusa dina – laws established by civil authorities for the common good. Therefore, he must certainly observe tax codes, traffic laws, building and zoning codes, and regulations against smuggling.

AN INTERESTING SHAYLAH – BRIBING A DISHONEST JUDGE

The Chasam Sofer (6:14) was asked the following shaylah: A non-Jew sued a Jew falsely in a dishonest court. The Jew knew that the non-Jewish judge would rule against him, despite the absence of any evidence. However, bribing the judge may gain a ruling in the Jew’s favor. May he bribe the dishonest judge to rule honestly?

Chasam Sofer rules that it is permitted. The prohibition against bribing a non-Jew is because he is responsible to have an honest court. However, if the result of the bribe will be a legitimate ruling, it is permitted. (Of course, the Jewish litigant must be absolutely certain that he is right.)

OTHER PROHIBITIONS

In addition to the “Seven Mitzvos,” there are other activities that are also prohibited to a non-Jew. According to many opinions, a non-Jew may not graft trees from different species or crossbreed animals (Sanhedrin 56b; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:6; Meiri ad loc.; cf. Shach Yoreh Deah 297:3 and Dagul Mei’re’vavah ad loc.; Chazon Ish, Kelayim 1:1). According to many poskim, a non-Jew may not even own a grafted fruit tree, and a Jew may not sell him such a tree, because that would cause a non-Jew to violate his mitzvah (Shu’t Mahari Asad, Yoreh Deah #350; Shu’t Maharsham 1:179).

Some poskim contend that non-Jews are prohibited from engaging in sorcery (see Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 11:4). According to this opinion, a non-Jew may not use any type of black magic, necromancy or fortune telling. However, most opinions disagree (Radbaz, Hilchos Melachim 10:6).

MAY A NON-JEW OBSERVE MITZVOS?

A non-Jew may not keep Shabbos or a day of rest (without doing melacha) on any day of the week (Sanhedrin 58b). The reason for this is subject to dispute. Rashi explains that a non-Jew is obligated to work every day, because the Torah writes, “Yom Valayla Lo Yishbosu,” which can be interpreted to mean, “Day and night they (i.e., the non-Jews) may not rest.” The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 10:9), however, explains that a gentile is prohibited from making his own holiday or religious observance, because the Torah is opposed to the creation of man-made religions. In the words of the Rambam, “A non-Jew is not permitted to create his own religion or mitzvah. Either he becomes a righteous convert (a ger tzedek) and accepts the observance of all the mitzvos, or he remains with the laws that he has, without adding or detracting.” A third reason mentioned is that a Jew may mistakenly learn from a gentile who keeps a day of rest, and the Jew may create his own mitzvos (Meiri).

Because of this halacha, a non-Jew studying for conversion must perform a small act of Shabbos desecration every Shabbos. There is a dispute among poskim whether this applies to a non-Jew who has undergone bris milah and is awaiting immersion in a mikvah to complete his conversion (Shu’t Binyan Tzion #91).

POSITIVE MITZVOS

You probably noticed that there are few positive mitzvos among the non-Jew’s commandments. They are required to believe that the mitzvos were commanded by Hashem through Moshe Rabbeinu (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11). They are also obligated to establish courts. A non-Jew is permitted to observe the mitzvos of the Torah, with a few exceptions (for example, see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:10). He is even permitted to offer korbanos (Zevachim 116b).

STUDYING TORAH

The Gemara states that a non-Jew is not permitted to study Torah (Sanhedrin 59a). One opinion of the Gemara explains that the Torah belongs to the Jewish people, and by studying Torah the gentile is “stealing” Jewish property. However, there are many exceptions to this ruling. First, a gentile may study all the halachos applicable to observing his mitzvos (Meiri). Rambam rules that it is a mitzvah to teach a non-Jew the halachos of offering korbanos, if he intends to bring them (Rambam, Maasei Hakorbanos 19:16). According to the Rama’s opinion that a non-Jew must observe the Torah’s civil laws, the non-Jew may study all the intricate laws of Choshen Mishpat. Furthermore, since a non-Jew is permitted to observe most mitzvos of the Torah, some opinions contend that he may learn the laws of those mitzvos in order to observe them correctly (Meiri, Sanhedrin 58b).

There is a dispute among poskim whether one may teach a non-Jew Torah if the non-Jew is planning to convert. The Meiri (Sanhedrin 58b) and Maharsha (Shabbos 31a s.v. Amar lei mikra) rule that it is permitted, whereas Rabbi Akiva Eiger forbids it (Shu’t #41). Others permit teaching Nevi’im and Kesuvim to non-Jews (Shiltei HaGibborim, Avodah Zarah 20a, quoting Or Zarua), and other poskim permit teaching a non-Jew about miracles that the Jews experienced (Shu’t Melamed Leho’il Yoreh Deah #77).

Incidentally, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one is permitted to teach Torah to Jews while a non-Jew is listening (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:132). For this reason, he permits conducting a Seder with a non-Jew in attendance.

OLAM HABA FOR A NON-JEW

A gentile who observes his mitzvos because Hashem commanded them through Moshe Rabbeinu is called one of the Chassidei Umos HaOlam and merits a place in Olam Haba. Observing these mitzvos carefully does not suffice to make a non-Jew into a Chassid. He must observe his mitzvos as a commandment of Hashem (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11).

When I was a congregational rabbi, I often met non-Jews who were interested in Judaism. I always presented the option of becoming an observant ben Noach. I vividly recall meeting a woman whose grandfather was Jewish, but who herself was halachically not Jewish. She was keeping kosher – no small feat in her town, where there was no Jewish community. Although she had come to speak about converting, since we do not encourage conversion I explained the halachos of Bnei Noach to her instead.

An even more interesting experience occurred when I was once making a kashrus inspection at an ice cream plant. A worker there asked me where I was from, and then informed me that he used to attend a Reform Temple two blocks from my house! I was surprised, not expecting to find a Jew in the plant. However, it turned out that he was not Jewish at all, but had stopped attending church after rejecting its beliefs. Now, he was concerned, because he had stopped attending the Reform Temple that was far from his house. I discussed with him the religious beliefs and observances of Bnei Noach, explaining that they must be meticulously honest in all their business dealings, just like Jews. I told him that Hashem gave mitzvos to both Jews and non-Jews, and that Judaism is the only major religion that does not claim a monopoly on heaven. Non-Jews, too, merit olam haba if they observe their mitzvos.

Over the years, I have noticed that many churchgoing non-Jews in the United States have rejected the tenets of Christianity. What they have accepted is that Hashem appeared to Moshe and the Jewish people at Sinai and commanded us about His mitzvos. This belief is vital for non-Jews to qualify as Chassidei Umos HaOlam – they must accept that the commandments of Bnei Noach were commanded to Moshe (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11).

CONCLUSION

As Jews, we do not proselytize to gentiles, nor seek converts. However, when we meet sincere non-Jews, we should direct them correctly in their quest for truth by introducing them to the Seven Mitzvos of Bnei Noach.

Writing a Sefer Torah

Question #1: Why not?

“Why doesn’t everyone write his own Sefer Torah?”

Question #2: Partners in Torah

“May two people partner together to fulfill the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah?”

Question #3: Traditional Chapters

“Why did some gedolei Yisroel not use perakim and pesukim numbers to identify pesukim, whereas others did?”

Introduction:

The last mitzvah mentioned in the Torah, which we are taught in parshas Vayeileich, is that each individual is required to write a Sefer Torah. The words of the Torah from which we derive this mitzvah are, Ve’atah kisvu lachem es hashirah hazos velamdah es Bnei Yisroel simah befihem lema’an tihyeh li hashirah hazos le’eid bivnei Yisroel, “And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel, place it in their mouths, so that this song shall be a testimony among the Children of Israel” (Devorim 31:19). We should note that two of the targumim, the early Aramaic translations of the Torah, authored by Onkelus and by Yonasan ben Uziel, both translate the word shirah not as “song,” but as “praise.” On the other hand, both Rashi and the Rambam (Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:1) explain the posuk a bit differently from the Targum, translating shirah as “song” and understanding it to refer to the song of parshas Ha’azinu. The Rambam explains the posuk to mean that one should “write the Torah, which contains the song of Ha’azinu.”

The Baal Haturim on the posuk notes two gematriyos, one that the words velamdah es Bnei Yisroel equal zeh Torah shebiksav,“this is the Written Torah,” and the words simah befihem equal zeh Talmud, “this is the Oral Torah.”

Nothing missing

Fulfilling the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah requires that one write an entire Sefer Torah — even if one letter is missing, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah (Rambam). A Sefer Torah must be written in black ink on parchment. Parchment is made from animal hide, and the mitzvos of Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos require that the parchment is produced from the hide of a kosher species. There is no halachic requirement to make it from an animal that was slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law, and, as a matter of fact, the hide is usually not from animals that were slaughtered according to halacha.

Lishmah

The tanning of the hide into parchment must be done lishmah, for the purpose of using it for a Sefer Torah. At the first step of the tanning, the Jew who processes the hide into parchment should state that he is processing it lishmah. Whether or not a non-Jew can perform some of the tanning under a Jew’s supervision, or whether doing this undermines the requirement that the processing must be lishmah, is a lengthy discussion among early halachic authorities (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah #3).

The writing of the Sefer Torah must also be performed lishmah. Before he begins writing, the sofer should state aloud, “I am writing this Sefer Torah for the sanctity of Moshe Rabbeinu’s Torah” (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah #4). There is an additional requirement that, when writing the names of Hashem, the scribe write them for the sake of creating holy names.

Dipping the quill

There is an interesting halacha that, when writing the name of Hashem, the sofer should not dip his quill into the ink immediately before writing His name. The reason is that the first letter written after a quill is dipped into ink often smears, and one does not want this to occur while one is writing Hashem‘s name.

Scoring

Prior to writing the words of the Torah on the specially-made parchment, one must score the parchment in a way that leaves no written marks. This process, called sirtut, is accomplished by running an awl or other sharp instrument across the parchmentto mark the lines on which one plans to write (Rambam, Rosh, Tur; cf. Rabbeinu Tam, who disagrees). This law is a halacha leMoshe miSinai, meaning that it is a mesorah, a tradition, that we were taught by Moshe Rabbeinu, who learned it directly from Hashem when he learned the Torah on Har Sinai.

Punctuating Torah

We have a mesorah how the words of the Torah are vowelized and punctuated; the markings indicating this appear in every standard chumash. However, in a Sefer Torah itself, halacha dictates that no periods, other punctuation marks, reading aids or music notes appear.

Chapters

Similarly, the division of the Torah into chapters, perakim, is originally from non-Jewish sources and is never used in handwritten Sifrei Torah. Indeed, this is true not only of the Torah, but also in most of the rest of Tanach. The chapter divisions that are commonly used for most of Tanach do not originate in Jewish sources. The two books that are exceptions, where the chapters are according to Jewish sources, are Tehillim and Eicha. In all other kisvei hakodesh, the division into pesukim is part of our tradition, but not the division into chapters. Consequently, the numbering of the pesukim, which is based on the non-Jewish chapter division, is also not our tradition.

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “Why did some gedolei Yisroel not use perakim and pesukim numbers to identify pesukim, whereas others did?”

Many of our gedolim, for example, the Chofetz Chayim and the Ohr Somayach, refrained from referring to pesukim according to chapter and posuk. Instead, they would refer to them by the parsha of the week and its location within the parsha. Clearly, they did not want to use a system that was non-Jewish in origin. Those who do use the chapter and posuk system felt, presumably, that since there is no prohibition to use this system, which makes it much easier for the student to locate the posuk being quoted or studied, one may use it to facilitate the student’s learning.

Pesuchos and sesumos

The Torah itself is divided into sections using a different system, which are called pesuchos and sesumos. These are indicated by the letter “pei” or “samach” in our standard chumashim.

There is a dispute among rishonim exactly how one is to make the pesuchos and sesumos. Both approaches agree that when the pesucha is in the middle or beginning of a line, it is indicated by leaving the rest of the line blank, and then continuing the next passage on the next line. When a sesumah is in the middle or beginning of a line, it is indicated by leaving blank an area at least nine spaces long and then continuing the next passage on the same line. However, when a pesucha or sesumah is at the end or towards the end of a line, the poskim dispute how it must be written. In order to avoid writing a Sefer Torah that is kosher only according to some authorities, accepted practice is to avoid having a pesucha or sesumah at the end or towards the end of a line. We will see shortly how we make sure that this happens.

Write the letters carefully

The sofer must be careful to write the letters clearly and to follow the halachic rules governing how the letters are to be written. He must also make sure that each letter is completely surrounded by parchment. This last requirement, called mukaf gevil, means that each letter must be written in a way that it does not connect to another letter, nor may it run to the top or bottom of the piece of parchment on which it is written.

One of the rules for writing a Sefer Torah is that the scribe must have another Sefer Torah or a tikun in front of him that has all the words of the Torah correctly spelled. In practice, sofrim use a tikun not only to help them spell the words correctly, but to mimic their exact placement on the line and column. Among other reasons, this is to avoid having the sesumos and pesuchos occur towards or at the ends of lines, which creates a halachic problem, as mentioned above.

Size of letters

A Sefer Torah may be written with very small letters or with very large ones, but the relative size of the letters within the same Sefer Torah must be consistent, except for those few letters that have a tradition to be written larger or smaller.

The scribe who writes a Sefer Torah must be a yarei shamayim and knowledgeable in all the laws of writing a Sefer Torah. There are many more details of these laws, far more than we can discuss in this article. Suffice it to say that numerous works are devoted entirely to the topic of the correct writing of letters in a Sefer Torah.

Someone who does not believe in the G-d-given nature of the Torah at Har Sinai is ineligible to be a scribe for Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos. Such a person may write a kesubah, which is halachically a contract and not holy writing.

How does it dry?

After writing a section of parchment that needs to dry, it is prohibited to suspend it upside down to prevent dust from settling on it. Notwithstanding that this is a simple method for making sure that the parchment remains clean while drying, it is a disrespectful way to treat the words of Hashem (Tur, Yoreh Deah Chapter 277).

Stitching

The pieces of parchment are stitched together with a specially-made thread processed from sinews of kosher animals. (As before, the animals must be of kosher species, but there is no requirement that they be kosher-slaughtered.) It should not be stitched all the way to the top or all the way to the bottom (Tur, Yoreh Deah Chapter 278).

Requirement

Until now, we have been discussing the halachos germane to writing a Sefer Torah, all of which are essential to fulfill this mitzvah. At this point, we will discuss some of the other laws germane to fulfilling the mitzvah.

The Gemara writes that a person who purchased a Sefer Torah that was not kosher, even if only because of one letter, and then repaired the error, it is considered as if he wrote an entire Sefer Torah (Menachos 30a). This is because one is not permitted to own an incorrect Sefer Torah.

Why would someone get credit for writing the entire Sefer Torah when all he did was write one letter? The answer is that a Sefer Torah containing mistakes must be repaired or checked within 30 days. Otherwise, one should place it in genizah. Thus, the individual who corrected the one letter took an incomplete Sefer Torah that would have required genizah and made it into a source that can be used for study and reading the Torah.

Selling a Sefer Torah

The Gemara teaches that one may not sell a Sefer Torah, even if he does not have food to put on his table (Megillah 27a). There are two situations in which one is permitted to sell a sefer Torah: (1) one needs funds to study Torah, or (2) one needs funds to get married (ad locum). The Rema (Yoreh Deah 270:1) adds a third case, permitting the sale of a Sefer Torah in order to have funds with which to fulfill the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim, redeeming captives.

One may not sell a Sefer Torah, even if he owns several already, and even if he wants to sell an older one in order to have the funds with which to purchase a newer one (Tur, Yoreh Deah, Chapter 270).

Purchasing a Sefer Torah

Does one fulfill the mitzvah if one purchases a Sefer Torah? Based on his understanding of the Gemara (Menachos 30a), the Rema rules that one fulfills the mitzvah only if the Sefer Torah had mistakes and he purchased it and hired a sofer to repair it (or repaired it himself); but, if the Sefer Torah was in good order, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah by purchasing it.

Indeed, there is a dispute among the rishonim concerning this halacha: Rashi (Menachos 30a) and the Sefer Hachinuch explain that one fulfills the mitzvah in a non-optimal way by purchasing a Sefer Torah, whereas the Rambam, Smag, Shulchan Aruch and Rema all rule that one is not yotzei by purchase, because the Torah states that the mitzvah is to “write.”

The Minchas Chinuch notes that if he hired a sofer to write a Sefer Torah and then failed to pay him, not only has he violated the Torah prohibition of failing to pay a hiree, he has also not fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah.

Gave it away

According to the Toras Chayim (Sanhedrin 21, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 270:3 and by Minchas Chinuch), someone who sold, lost or donated his Sefer Torah no longer fulfills the mitzvah and he must write another one. The Sefer Hachinuch implies that he agrees with this approach, since he writes that the mitzvah is that each individual should own a Sefer Torah. However, there are prominent authorities who dispute this conclusion, ruling that once he fulfilled the mitzvah by writing a Sefer Torah, selling it or giving it away does not invalidate his fulfilling of the mitzvah (see Pischei Teshuvah).

Partners in Torah

At this point, let us examine another of our opening questions: “May two people partner together to fulfill the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah?”

The Pischei Teshuvah, an anthologized commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, quotes a few poskim who discuss this question. Most are inclined to rule that one has not fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah this way.

The Sefer Hachinuch defines the mitzvah as being that each person must own a Sefer Torah, which sounds as if he also holds that one does not fulfill the mitzvah by partnering with someone else to hire a sofer to write it.

The Sefer Hachinuch also writes that the optimal hiddur is to write the Torah himself, with his own hand. If someone is unable to write it himself, he should hire someone to write it for him.

Purchasing seforim

Does one fulfill the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah by purchasing seforim used to study Torah? The Rosh writes: Today, when people write a Sefer Torah and it is then left in shul to be used for the mitzvah of kerias haTorah, it is a positive mitzvah on every Jewish male who can afford it to write Chumashim, Mishnayos, Gemaras and their commentaries, in order that he and his children be able to study them. This is because the mitzvah of the Torah specifies “in order to learn from them,” and with the Gemara and commentaries one understands the mitzvos and their details well (Hilchos Sefer Torah #1).

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 270) explains that the Rosh was not coming to rule that there is no longer a mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah, but that there is also a mitzvah to write other seforim, and that this acquisition is a bigger mitzvah than writing a Sefer Torah. In the Shulchan Aruch, he reflected this opinion. However, there are prominent acharonim who disagree with the Shulchan Aruch and understand that the Rosh’s conclusion is that there is no mitzvah today to write a Sefer Torah (Perisha; Shach). This understanding of the Rosh explains that the mitzvah of the Torah is to produce materials used to study Torah. Since a Sefer Torah is not used today for this purpose, writing one does not fulfill the 613th mitzvah of the Torah.

According to this approach, there is an easy answer to our opening question: “Why doesn’t everyone write his own Sefer Torah?”

There are other reasons to explain why people do not write their own Sefer Torah. Another approach is that one is not required to spend more than a fifth of what he owns to fulfill a mitzvah (Minchas Chinuch). Thus, many poor and middle-class people are exempt from the mitzvah. (See the Sha’agas Aryeh, Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #52 and #54 and the Minchas Chinuch for yet other reasons to exempt people today from the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah.)

Conclusion

The goal of the Torah’s mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah is so that, wherever Jews live, there should be readily available seforim to study Torah. However, if this was the Torah’s only concern, it would have required each individual to purchase seforim according to his ability. Instead, the Torah required each individual to write a Sefer Torah, thus implying two additional ideas. (1) The Torah wanted each individual to be involved in the providing of Torah learning material, regardless of his personal financial situation. (2) The Torah wanted each individual to be involved, himself, in the writing of Torah materials and their procurement, and not to deputize this mitzvah to others, even when they are more skillful.

The Torah is referred to as a Tree of Life.  B’nei Yisroel are depicted as an agricultural people.  As the Torah is, indeed, a source — the Source — of life, it is certainly appropriate that we care for its proper “planting” and flourishing, as outlined in halacha.

Maaser Sheini

Photo by david Kadosh from FreeImages

Question #1: Where?

Many mitzvos can be performed only between the “walls” of Yerushalayim. Do these laws apply to everywhere within the walls of today’s “Old City”?

Question #2: What?

“What may I not remove from Yerushalayim?”

Question #3: When?

“When am I permitted to eat maaser sheini?”

Introduction:

This week’s parsha includes the mitzvah of maaser sheini. Although people currently living in chutz la’aretz often feel that they do not need to know the laws applicable to the agricultural mitzvos of the Torah, everyone must know the basic laws of this mitzvah for many reasons, including:

1. When in Eretz Yisroel, to which we all aspire, we need to be sure that all terumos and maasros are properly separated. Someone living outside of Eretz Yisroel also needs to know the details of the laws on produce that grows in Eretz Yisroel.

2. We daven three times daily for Moshiach to come so that we can live in Eretz Yisroel and observe the mitzvos that apply there. Although most of the laws of maaser sheini do not apply today even in Eretz Yisroel, they will all apply again, iy’H, when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt and we can achieve a state of taharah by virtue of the ashes of the parah adumah.

3. Fruits of chutz la’aretz may have the status of neta reva’ie, which shares the laws of maaser sheini.

The basics

Produce grown in Eretz Yisroel and the lands nearby must have several small portions separated from it before it may be consumed. These are:

Terumah

First, a small amount is separated as terumah, which is property of the kohen. When we are all tahor, the owner gives the terumah to a kohen of his choice. Terumah may be eaten by any close member of the kohen’s family – including his wife, sons, and unmarried daughters — as long as they are completely tahor.

Since no kohen is tahor today, terumah may not be eaten. If the terumah is itself tamei, it is destroyed, preferably by burning it. If the terumah is tahor, we are not permitted to eat it, nor to destroy it. What does one do with it?

We put it in a place where no one will mistakenly eat it, and leave it there until it decomposes to the point that people will not eat it. At that point, it is disposed of. We will soon explain why decomposition permits one to destroy terumah.

Maaser rishon

After terumah has been separated, a tenth of the remaining produce is separated as maaser rishon, which is the property of the Levi. The Levi is required to separate one tenth of what he receives, which is called terumas maaser and has all the laws of terumah as explained above. The remaining maaser rishon has no sanctity, and therefore may be eaten by anyone, even when tamei. Therefore, maaser rishon can be eaten today, even though we are all tamei, and the Levi can sell it or give it away to whomever he chooses. Furthermore, none of the restrictions we will discuss shortly regarding redemption or use applies to maaser rishon.

Maaser sheini/maaser ani

After maaser rishon is separated, there is an obligation to set aside a tenth of what is left. Depending which year it is relative to the shemittah cycle, either maaser sheini or maaser ani is separated.

These two types of maaser are halachically very different. Maaser ani is the property of the poor and has no sanctity, similar to maaser rishon. The owner of the field decides to which poor person or persons he gives the maaser ani. There is detailed halacha defining who qualifies as “poor” for the purposes of this mitzvah, but since the theme of this article is maaser sheini and not maaser ani, we will leave this question for a different time.

When is one required to separate maaser sheini, and when is one required to separate maaser ani? The halacha is that Eretz Yisroel follows a seven year shemittah cycle. In the first, second, fourth and fifth years, the second tithe is maaser sheini, and in the third and sixth years it is maaser ani. Since shemittah produce is ownerless, there are usually no terumah and maasros separations that year. In the unusual instances where there is, which is a topic for a different time, there is extensive halachic discussion whether the second tithe is maaser sheini or maaser ani.

Maaser sheini, the topic of our article, must be eaten in Yerushalayim by people who are tahor. Any tahor Jew is permitted to eat it, but it must be eaten within the walls of the ancient city of Yerushalayim. We will soon discuss what that means and we will also see that there are many other laws that apply to it. We will also discuss what can be done if it is impractical to transport all of one’s maaser sheini to Yerushalayim.

Which maaser?

We should note that the term maaser, without specifying which one, is used sometimes to refer to maaser rishon and sometimes to refer to maaser sheini, notwithstanding that their laws are very different from one another. Usually, one can understand from context which maaser is intended. If the context alludes to maaser owned by a Levi, or to the first maaser being separated, maaser rishon is intended. If it refers to something that has sanctity, usually maaser sheini is intended. Since the rest of this article will be discussing the specific and unusual sanctity of maaser sheini, I will henceforth use the term maaser to mean only maaser sheini.

The parsha

At this point, let us examine the appropriate pesukim in this week’s parsha: “And you shall eat the maaser of your grain, your wine, and your olive oil… before Hashem your G-d, in the place that He will choose to rest His Name — so that you will thereby learn to be in awe of Hashem at all times. However, when you are blessed by Hashem, your G-d, such that you are unable to carry [the maaser sheini] to a place as distant as the one that Hashem chooses, then you may exchange it for money that you bring with you on your visit to that place that Hashem has chosen. Once you are there, you shall exchange the money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, which you shall eat there, before Hashem, your G-d. In this way, you and your family will celebrate” (Devarim 14:23-26).

Obviously, the place that He will choose to rest His Name refers to the city of Yerushalayim. Thus, we are told the following halachos: Maaser should be brought with you when you travel to Yerushalayim. However, if you have more produce than you can easily carry to Yerushalayim, you may redeem the maaser produce, a process that removes the sanctity and special laws from the maaser produce and places it on coins. The Torah shebe’al peh teaches that this redemption can be performed only onto minted coins. When the owner is redeeming his own maaser produce, he must redeem it for coinage that is worth 25% more than its value. Then he brings this money to Yerushalayim, where it is used to purchase food to be eaten within the confines of the city. This acquisition transfers the maaser sheini sanctity from the money to the food, which means that this newly acquired food can be eaten only within the walls of Yerushalayim and must be eaten while tahor.

Vacation fund

Whether one transports one’s maaser sheini produce itself to Yerushalayim, or purchases food with the money to which the sanctity has been transferred, the farmer remains with a lot of maaser sheini that may be consumed only in Yerushalayim, a city bursting with sanctity and special, holy people. The beauty of this mitzvah is that it entices the farmer to ascend to the Holy City and be part of the spiritual growth attainable only there.

One can even look at the maaser sheini as “vacation fund” money that the Torah provides. Although the farmer may not be wealthy, when he arrives in Yerushalayim, he can eat and drink like a king!

Sanctity and purity

As mentioned above, the original maaser sheini that was separated and brought to Yerushalayim, and the food purchased in Yerushalayim with the redemption money are holy and may be eaten only within the walls of the old Yerushalayim and only when both the food and the individual eating it are tahor, ritually pure.

In addition, there is another halacha pertaining to Yerushalayim. Once maaser produce has been brought within the Holy City’s walls, it may not be removed or redeemed.

O’ my Jerusalem!

By the way, the current “Old City” walls of Yerushalayim, constructed by the Ottoman Turks almost 1500 years after the churban, are not the borders that define the halachic sanctity of the city. The Turkish walls encompass areas that were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and therefore do not have the sanctity of Yerushalayim; and, without question, parts endowed with the sanctity of the Holy City are outside these walls. Thus, it will be necessary when Moshiach comes to determine exactly where are the borders of the halachic “old city of Yerushalayim.”

What food?

What food may one purchase with maaser sheini money? There are many laws regarding what one may purchase. The Torah specifies that, once in Yerushalayim, one may exchange maaser sheini money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, which seems both wordy and unusual. The Torah sheba’al peh explains this to mean that one may not purchase any food with maaser sheini money, but only those that grow either from the ground or meat and poultry, that grow “on the ground.” Therefore, one may use maaser sheini money to purchase fruit, vegetables, breads, pastry, meat or poultry; but not fish, which do not grow on the ground; not salt or water, which do not grow; nor mushrooms, which are fungi and are therefore not considered as growing from or on the ground.

The pasuk’s reference to purchasing cattle or sheep teaches a new law. It is considered exemplary to purchase animals that will then be offered in the Beis Hamikdash as korbanos shelamim. The owner takes home most of the meat of these korbanos to eat with whomever he chooses to invite. Of course, this must be eaten following all the laws of korbanos shelamim, which includes that everyone eating it must be tahor and that the meat is eaten only within the walls of the city, as explained above. Among many other laws, the meat may be eaten only until nightfall of the day following the offering of the korban. Whatever is not eaten by that time must be burned.

There is an interesting halacha germane to those who purchase animals for korbanos shelamim with maaser funds. One may use maaser funds to purchase an animal as a korban, even though it is not completely eaten. Parts of the animal are burned on the mizbei’ach, and the hide and bones are not consumed by anyone. Notwithstanding the strict rules governing the consumption of maaser, the hide, which was purchased as part of the animal with maaser funds, has no sanctity and belongs to the owner!

Sanctity of maaser sheini

Although any tahor Jew is permitted to consume maaser, there are many detailed rules governing how one must consume maaser. For example, one may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, nor may one eat raw produce that is usually cooked. Therefore, one may not eat raw maaser sheini potatoes, nor may one cook maaser sheini cucumbers or oranges.

Similarly, juicing vegetables and most kinds of fruit is considered “ruining” maaser sheini produce and it is therefore prohibited, although one may press grapes, olives and lemons, since the juice and oil of these fruits are considered more valuable than the fruit itself.

How do we determine whether processing a food “ruins” it or not? Some poskim contend that one may not process maaser in such a way that its brocha is changed (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85, based on Brachos 38a and Rambam, Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). Others contend that it is permitted when this is the most common use of this fruit (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is pg. 185). A practical difference in halacha between these two positions is whether one is permitted to squeeze oranges and grapefruits.

One must certainly be careful not to actively destroy maaser sheini. Therefore, one may not destroy it when it could still be eaten. Similarly, peels that are commonly eaten, such as those of cucumber or apple, still have kedusha and may not simply be disposed of. One is required to place them in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a small bin or box called a pach maaser, where it remains until the food is inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of it in the regular garbage.

Sanctity until spoilage

This leads us to a question: If indeed one may not throw maaser sheini produce in the garbage because it has sanctity, why may one do so after the produce decomposes? Does decomposition remove kedusha?

Indeed it does. Kedushas maaser sheini means that as long as the food is still edible, one may not make it inedible or use it atypically. This is because maaser sheini food is meant to be eaten. However, once the maaser sheini is inedible, it loses its special status and may be disposed of as trash.

This sounds very strange. Where do we find that something holy loses its special status when it becomes inedible?

Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with most of the mitzvos where this principle applies. Other mitzvos where this concept exists are shevi’is, terumah, challah, bikkurim, and reva’ie (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11; Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). Of these types of produce that are holy, but meant to be eaten, only shevi’is may be eaten by someone tamei. Even though someone tamei may not consume tahor terumah, challah, or maaser sheini, one also may not dispose of them or even burn them. Instead, one must place them in a secure place until they decay and only then dispose of them (Tur, Yoreh Deah 331).  We burn the special challah portion after separating it, only because it has become tamei. If it did not become tamei, one may not destroy the challah portion, but must place it somewhere until it decays on its own.

Contemporary maaser sheini

The fact that one must be tahor to consume maaser sheini changes the way one observes this mitzvah today, since we cannot become tahor. Without the ashes of a parah adumah with which to purify ourselves of certain types of tumah, we cannot eat maaser produce, nor the food purchased with the redeeming coins. Because we cannot eat maaser food, it is pointless to purchase food with these coins; instead, maaser coins remain unused and are eventually destroyed. To avoid excessive loss, one is permitted to redeem large quantities of maaser sheini onto a very small value within a coin, and this is the way we redeem maaser sheini today. Of course, we are missing the main spiritual gain of consuming the foods in Yerushalayim, but this is one of the many reasons for which we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and pray many times daily for its restoration.

There is another law that is different because of our unfortunate circumstances. Since the maaser will not be consumed, it is permitted to redeem tamei maaser produce onto coins, even within the boundaries of the Holy City. Otherwise, one is permitted to redeem maaser produce only in a place where it cannot be eaten.

In conclusion, when we buy produce that grew in Israel, either we should check that there is a good hechsher that attended to all the maaser needs or we should make sure to separate all the terumos and maasros ourselves and redeem the maaser sheini.

Neta reva’ie

I mentioned above that all the laws that apply to maaser sheini also apply to reva’ie. Reva’ie is the fruit that grows in the fourth year of a tree’s life. In a different article, I have explained how we calculate the years of a tree’s life. There is also an article titled Could the Fruit of My Tree Be Orlah? where I discussed whether and when the laws of reva’ie apply to trees planted in chutz la’aretz or only to those in Eretz Yisroel.

Conclusion

A prominent talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein once related to me the following story. A female calf was born that was completely red. Of course, conversations were abuzz: Could this possibly be a hint that Moshiach will be coming soon, and that we would soon have a parah adumah to use in removing our tumah?

Some of the talmidim in Rav Moshe’s yeshivah approached him with this information, expecting to see his reaction to the great news. Much to their astonishment, Rav Moshe did not react at all. Surprised, one of them asked Rav Moshe: “Does not the Rosh Yeshivah think that this might be a sign that Moshiach will be coming soon?” To this, Rav Moshe answered: “A parah adumah is not kosher until it is three years old. I daven that Moshiach should come today, not in three years.”

We should all have Rav Moshe’s desire for Moshiach to be here, today, and, to demonstrate this desire, be as knowledgeable as we can in all the halachos that will then be germane. May we soon see the day when we can bring our maaser sheini and our reva’ie and eat them betaharah within the rebuilt walls of Yerushalayim!

It’s for the Birds

The Mitzvah of Shiluach Hakein

Photo by MojtabaT from FreeImages

Question #1: Required???

“Must I physically send away the mother bird? I am squeamish!”

Question #2: Keep the Babies

“Must I take the young to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Question #3: Educated!

“I am so excited about the opportunity to fulfill this special mitzvah, with all its rewards, but I want to make sure I do it properly. Can you please enlighten me?”

Well known and poorly understood

This week’s parsha includes the laws of a mitzvah, or more accurately, two mitzvos that are both well-known and yet poorly understood. The Torah teaches that when we happen to find a nest of birds, we are to send away the mother and keep the young; that is, either the baby birds or the eggs. An entire chapter of Mishnah and Gemara, the twelfth and last perek of Chullin, is devoted to understanding this mitzvah, which actually involves two mitzvos, a lo saaseh, a prohibition against taking the mother, and a mitzvas aseih, a positive mitzvah to send away the mother. At the same time, the Torah itself teaches of a very specific reward gained by someone who observes this mitzvah. We will therefore begin the study of this fascinating mitzvah in this article.

Let us rephrase briefly the first two of our opening questions:

1. Should I find such a nest, may I simply ignore it and continue on my way, or is doing so ignoring a requirement to fulfill a mitzvah?

2. “Must I take the young to fulfill the mitzvah?” When I send away the mother bird, am I required to keep the young, or, at least, to physically lift up the eggs or baby birds, thereby taking possession of them? Or have I completed the performance of the mitzvah simply by sending away the mother?

Introduction

At this point, we should read the words of the Torah very carefully, because answering some of our questions will depend on properly understanding these words.

Ki yikarei kan tzipor lefanecha baderech, bechol eitz oh al ha’aretz, efrochim oh beitzim, veha’eim rovetzes al ha’efrochim oh al habeitzim, lo sikach ha’eim al habanim. Shalei’ach teshalach es ha’eim, ve’es habanim tikach loch, lemaan yitav loch veha’archata yamim.“If a bird’s nest, containing either chicks or eggs, happens to be before you on the road, whether it (the nest) is in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is nesting upon the chicks or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother from/with the offspring. (I will explain shortly why I left the translation this way.) You shall certainly send away the mother and take the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you, and you shall lengthen your days” (Devorim 22:6-7).

Off the derech

Several points in these pesukim are uncertain. The Torah states that the nest must be on the derech, which means on the way or road. Why does the Torah need to tell you that it was on the road? Does this mitzvah not apply if the mother bird is off the derech?

The Gemara first suggests that the Torah is teaching that there is no mitzvah of shiluach hakein if the bird built her nest on the water. However, the Gemara demonstrates that this halacha is inaccurate — a waterway is also called a derech, and, should one find a nest on a waterway, the mitzvah of shiluach hakein applies.

So, what case is exempt, because mommy bird is “off the derech”? The Gemara concludes that there is no mitzvah of shiluach hakein should the nest be on your property, since this is not called “on the way,” which implies an ownerless area (Chullin 139b). The Mishnah states that geese or chickens that set up their nests in an orchard are included in the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, whereas there is no requirement to send away the mother goose or hen if she set up her nest in the house. The Mishnah’s term “chickens that set up their nests in an orchard” means that they have run away from the owner’s jurisdiction. However, if the chickens or geese are “rebellious,” occasionally wandering beyond the confines of their usual home, but still returning to the owner’s barn for nesting, they are still considered “owned.” Similarly, the laws of shiluach hakein apply to an ownerless bird that nests on your property (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 292:2).

Late poskim explain that you are exempt from performing the mitzvah on birds that could easily become yours, even if at the moment they are not your property. Without delving into the halachic analysis entailed, they conclude that the mitzvah of shiluach hakein does not apply to chickens and similar domesticated species, unless this particular bird refuses to be domesticated (Shu”t Imrei Yosher #158; Minchas Shelomoh 2:97:26).

On the other hand, the mitzvah does apply, in general, to doves and pigeons, which, even when kept in dovecotes, are not as domesticated as chickens. However, one is exempt from performing the mitzvah of shiluach hakein in the case of homing pigeons, which accept human domination. This means that someone can remove chickens or homing pigeons roosting on a nest and bring them to the shocheit.

Mommy or daddy

There are species of birds in which the father roosts on the nest, or the two parents take turns. In this instance, does the mitzvah apply, regardless as to which parent is on the nest, or is the mitzvah gender-specific, applying only if the mother bird is on the nest? This question is debated in the Mishnah and discussed in the Gemara. Normative halacha rules that the mitzvah applies only if mother bird is on the nest. This conclusion is implied by the posuk when it says veha’eim rovetzes, “and the mother is nesting.”

Therefore, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, one must first determine that the nesting bird is, indeed, the mother. One does not require a DNA test to verify these facts – usually a bit of observation will show you whether one bird or two are nesting.

This question is germane to pigeons, who present the most common contemporary application of shiluach hakein, since non-domesticated ones often create their nests near or in human habitation. Pigeons, which are loyal to their mates for life, take turns roosting on the nest. Usually, the daddy bird takes day shift and mommy does the night shift. (During their time off, each parent goes out to earn a living. Not many social-life options in a full nest.)

There are several halachic ramifications to this social knowledge of pigeon family structure, of which I will share two. Should someone be interested in harvesting both a pigeon parent and its eggs or young, he can determine which parent is male, and then, at the appropriate time, seize daddy bird and the young at the same time without violating any prohibition of the Torah.

A second ramification applies to someone eager to fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakein. Before sending away the nesting bird, one should determine whether, at the moment, mommy or daddy is roosting there. If it is daddy, no mitzvah is fulfilled by sending him away, even if you are a father’s rights activist.

From or with?

Allow me to return to the laws that we derive from understanding the posuk. The Torah writes, lo sikach ha’eim al habanim, which can be translated and explained in more than one way. It could mean that you should not take the mommy from the young, which would mean that the prohibition is taking the mother, even should you leave the offspring, which is the way Rashi explains the verse (as explained by Maharal; note that Mizrachi seems to have understood Rashi differently). On the other hand, the Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #306) translates the phrase ha’eim al habanim as with the young, meaning that one violates the lo saaseh prohibition only if one takes both mother and offspring. Should someone take the mother and not the offspring, in the Rambam’s opinion, he violated the mitzvas aseih commanding him to send away the mother, but not the lo saaseh. According to Rashi, this person also violated the lo saaseh. Thus, we see that a halachic difference can hinge on how you translate the preposition al.

Earlier in this article, I translated this passage as “You shall not take the mother from/with the young.” This was in order to avoid biasing someone from translating the posuk in a way that supports either side of the dispute between rishonim.

Required???

Our opening question was: “Must I physically send away the mother bird? I am squeamish!” Or, as I explained it: Should I find such a nest, may I simply ignore it and continue on my way, or would I thereby be ignoring a requirement to fulfill a mitzvah?

To explain this a bit better: The Torah includes mitzvos that I am required to observe, such asputting on tefillin and eating matzoh on Pesach. Shiluach hakein is certainly not such a mitzvah, since it depends upon circumstance and applies only when I find a nest. However, among mitzvos of the Torah that are non-obligatory, there are different levels of requirement. Some mitzvos are simply a matir, they permit me to do something, but I have no obligation to do them, whereas others become obligatory when certain circumstances apply.

Some examples will make our explanation clearer. Here is an example of a mitzvah that is not required: shechitah. I am not required to walk down the street looking for animals to shecht. Even if I am a shocheit and someone asks me to shecht for them, it is not a requirement. The mitzvah is simply: If you want to eat meat, the animal must be shechted in a specific way. If one does not shecht it correctly, one may not eat the meat.

This type of mitzvah is a matir. There is no requirement to observe the mitzvah, but if I want to gain a certain benefit, the Torah provides me with specific instruction how to permit it.

If we understand shiluach hakein to be a matir, then what the Torah instructed is that if I find a nesting bird, I may not take both the young and their mother for my purposes. If I want to take the young, I must first send away the mother. (By the way, it is forbidden to take the mother, even if I do not want to take the young.)

Required

There is another way to understand shiluach hakein, which holds that this mitzvah is not a matir, but a requirement, should I encounter the appropriate situation. I will explain the second approach by comparison to a different mitzvah.

One of the Torah’s mitzvos is to return lost objects. There is no requirement for me to try to find lost objects in order to return them to their owner. However, once I see a lost object, I am required to retrieve the item and return it. If one understands that the mitzvah of shiluach hakein is comparable to hashavas aveidah, then, although I am not required to go looking for nesting birds, should I find one, I am required to send away the mother.

Based on Talmudic sources, early acharonim discuss whether shiluach hakein should be considered a matir or a requirement. If it is a matir, then our squeamish questioner is not required to fulfill the mitzvah. However, if it is a requirement, then it is a mitzvah that must be fulfilled. Halachically, it will be approximately equivalent to living in a house and not putting mezuzos on the doors.

Shalei’ach

The question is how one explains the words of the posuk, which says Shalei’ach teshalach es ha’eim, “You shall certainly send away the mother.” Here are two ways:

There is no requirement to send away the mother, but should I happen upon a nest and want to eat the mother bird, the young, or both, I may not take the mother, but must send her away. The act of sending away the mother permits me to keep the young, should I want to take them. According to this approach, the mitzvah of shiluach hakein is similar to shechitah. There is no requirement to shecht, but should I want to eat meat, this is the way to do so.

On the other hand, perhaps the mitzvah of shiluach hakein is similar to the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. This would mean that should I find a nest, I am now required to send away the mother.

Among the early acharonim, we find a responsum from the Chavos Ya’ir (#67) discussing this issue. To quote the Chavos Yair: “I was asked: if someone comes across a nest while he is walking through a field, is he required to send away the mother, or may he just continue on his way without doing anything?”

The Chavos Yair analyzes several passages of the Gemara in his attempt to prove which approach is correct. Based on his analysis of several texts of Chazal, he concludes that shiluach hakein is like hashavas aveidah, and, should one find a nest that meets the halachic requirements, there is an obligation to send away the mother, even though one has no interest in the young. This position is also accepted by several other prominent, later poskim (Shu”t Chacham Zvi #83; Rabbi Akiva Eiger to Yoreh Deah 292:1; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh De’ah 292:1-2).

On the other hand, there are several prominent poskim who dispute this ruling, concluding that shiluach hakein is a matir, like shechitah (Sefer Hamitzvos Hakatzar [of the Chofetz Chayim] Mitzvos Aseh #74; Chazon Ish (Yoreh De’ah 175:2); Shu”t Avnei  Neizer, Orach Chayim #48; Minchas Shelomoh 2:5:4 [5760 edition].

Keep the babies

Our second question that I quoted above was: “Must I take the young to fulfill the mitzvah?” I explained that the question is: When I send away the mother bird, am I required to keep the young, or, at least, to physically lift up the eggs or baby birds, thereby taking possession of them? Or have I completed the performance of the mitzvah simply by sending away the mother?

This is another halachic question that is dependent on the translation of a word of the posuk: The Torah says “You shall certainly send away the mother and take the young for yourself.” Does the Torah mean that you may take the young for yourself or that you are required to take the young? According to the second approach, the mitzvah is fulfilled only if one picks up the eggs or baby birds. If one does not pick them up, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah. According to the first approach, the mitzvah is fulfilled by sending away the mother. Once one has sent her away and fulfilled the mitzvah, one may pick up the eggs, should one want them, or leave them as is.

Again, the correct interpretation depends on a proper understanding of the posuk.

The Torah states, ve’es habanim tikach loch, “And take the young for yourself.” Is this part of the requirement of the mitzvah? In other words, did the Torah command that we perform two steps, send away the mother and take the young? Or, more simply, the Torah instructed that once you sent away the mother, you are permitted to keep the young for yourself.

This question is discussed by a prominent, early acharon, the Chacham Tzvi (Shu”t Chacham Tzvi #83). To quote him: “That which you asked me: One who sends away both the mother and the offspring, did he fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakein? Do we say that the words of the Torah, send away the mother and keep the young, must be fulfilled literally to fulfill the mitzvah, or not? You wrote me that the great scholars of Lublin were uncertain about this.”

The Chacham Tzvi rallies source material from the Gemara that the mitzvah is to send away the mother, and one fulfills the mitzvah, even if one does not take the young. Therefore, taking the young is not a requirement for the fulfillment of the mitzvah, but presents an option for the individual performing the mitzvah.  He compares this to the words of the Torah, “Six days shall you work, and do all your melacha.” Clearly, the Torah is not requiring one to work, but limiting one’s work time to six days of the seven-day week. Similarly, shiluach hakein should be understood that should you want to take the young, you may do so only after sending away the mother, but there is no requirement to take the young. Put in other terms, sending away the mother is a matir that permits taking the young, similar to shechitah being the matir permitting one to consume the meat. Just as shechitah does not require that someone eat the meat, so too, it is not required to take the young, and one fulfills the mitzvah without taking them.

Other acharonim disagree, demonstrating from the Zohar that one is supposed to take the offspring (Beis Lechem Yehudah). The Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 292:3-4) concludes, like the Chacham Tzvi, that there is no requirement to take the offspring. Nevertheless, since the posuk implies that one should, and there is evidence of this approach from some rishonim, the Aruch Hashulchan concludes that the proper approach is to make a kinyan on the young, such as by lifting them up. Furthermore, he notes that, according to the reason for the mitzvah of shiluach hakein proposed by many early authorities, which I hope to discuss in a future article, one should take the young.

Conclusion

The mitzvah we have just studied teaches that although we may eat kosher birds, we are prohibited to take a mother bird when she is in her nest tending to her young. In explanation of the reason for this mitzvah, Rav Hirsch sees a lesson to be learned regarding the sacred role of motherhood. To quote him: “The respect that a nation accords to the woman’s calling is a reliable barometer of that nation’s moral level… the paramount importance the Torah attaches to the woman’s activities… traces even into the sphere of animal life. It assures protection for a mother bird while she is engaged in her activity as a mother and it demands that everyone… should demonstrate through his actions this appreciation of the female as she carries out her task.”

Must I Toivel This?

Photo by Thomas Picard from FreeImages

Question #1: The Vanilla Cruet

“We received a gift of a glass cruet, a salad oil dispenser, that we doubt we will ever use for that purpose. We decided, instead, to use it is a flower vase and were told that we do not need to toivel it. Subsequently, we decided that we might use it for soaking vanilla beans and alcohol to make our own natural vanilla extract. Do we need to toivel it?”

Question #2: Restaurant Silverware

“I have always assumed that caterers and restaurants toivel their silverware and glasses. Recently, I was told that some hechsherim do not require this. Is this true? Am I permitted to use their silverware and glasses?”

Question #3: The Salami Slicer

“I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food-related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

Question #4: The Box Cutter

“Before I toivel my new steak knife, may I use it to open a box?

Answer:

After the Bnei Yisroel’s miraculous victory over the nation of Midyan, they were commanded regarding the booty that they had now acquired: Concerning the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become pure – yet, it must also be purified in mikveh water. And that which was not used in fire must pass through water (Bamidbar 31:22-23). From these verses, our Sages derive the mitzvah of tevilas keilim — the requirement to immerse metal implements used for food in a spring or kosher mikveh prior to use. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi (Avodah Zarah 5:15), the immersion of the implement elevates it to the sanctity of Jewish ownership, similar to the requirement that a non-Jew converting to Judaism submerges in a mikveh (Issur Vaheter 58:76; see also Ritva, Avodah Zarah 75b).

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) rules that, in addition to metal items, we are also required to immerse glass utensils, because both metal and glass are similar: they are recyclable. When they break, one can melt or weld the broken parts to create new utensils or to repair old ones. As a matter of fact, in the time of the Gemara, people kept broken pieces of metal and brought them to the blacksmith when they needed to manufacture new items (see Shabbos 123a). It is also interesting to note that this function is the basis of the Hebrew word for metal, mateches, which means meltable or dissolvable (see Yechezkel 22:22; Rashi, Shemos 9:33). In this characteristic, metal ware and glassware are different from items made of stone, wood or earthenware, which cannot be recycled in this manner.

Prior to dipping the metal ware or glassware, one recites a brocha, Asher ki’deshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al tevilas keilim. As we will soon see, this brocha is recited only when there is a definite requirement to toivel (immerse) an item.

Used without immersing

If, in violation of the Law, someone used an item that was not immersed, may one eat the food that came in contact with it? According to many authorities, this is the subject of a dispute between two opinions in the Gemara. Some early authorities (Baal Halachos Gedolos, Chapter 55; Or Zarua, Piskei Avodah Zarah #293) conclude that, indeed, this food is prohibited. However, the consensus of halachic authority is that it is permitted to eat food that was prepared using non-toiveled equipment (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 75b s.v. Vechulan; Ritva, ad locum; Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:16). This is useful information when visiting someone who, unfortunately, does not perform the mitzvah of tevilas keilim. Although one may not use non-toiveled utensils to eat or drink, the food prepared in them remains kosher. According to most authorities, if the food is served in non-toiveled utensils, one should transfer it to utensils that do not require immersion or were properly immersed.

The halachah is that when I know that someone will use pots and other equipment that were not immersed, I may not ask him to cook for me, since I am causing him to violate the Torah (lifnei iveir).

A matir or a takkanah?

Why is it forbidden to use a utensil that has not been toiveled? There are two different ways to understand this halachah.

A matir

The first approach explains that min HaTorah one may not use a utensil that has not been immersed, similar to the halachah that one may not eat meat without first shechting the animal. This logic holds that when the Torah created the mitzvah of tevilas keilim, it prohibited use of any food utensils that require immersion, and the immersion is what permits me to use the utensils. I will refer to this approach as holding that tevilas keilim is a matir.

A takkanah

Alternatively, one can explain that, although the requirement to immerse food utensils is min HaTorah, the prohibition to use non-toiveled utensils is a takkanah, a rabbinic prohibition. The reason for this prohibition is to encourage people to immerse their utensils in a timely fashion. Chazal were concerned that if it is permitted to use utensils without immersing them, people would postpone, indefinitely, fulfilling the mitzvah.

This second approach appears to be how the Mishnah Berurah understood this mitzvah, since he states that although most authorities contend that the mitzvah to immerse utensils is min HaTorah, the prohibition to use them if they were not immersed is only rabbinic (Biur Halachah 323:7 s.v. Mutar). This exact idea is expressed by Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomoh 2:66:13, 14).

Notwithstanding the Mishnah Berurah’s understanding of this mitzvah, the Or Zarua,a rishon, writes that the prohibition to use non-immersed equipment is min HaTorah (Or Zarua, Piskei Avodah Zarah #293; A careful reading of Shaagas Aryeh #56 will demonstrate that he was of the same opinion.) This implies that the mitzvah is indeed a matir, its purpose is to permit the use of the utensil. If not, where do we have any evidence that the Torah prohibited use of a non-immersed vessel?

Rushing to immerse

Is there a halachic requirement to immerse a utensil as soon as I purchase it, or may I wait for a convenient time to immerse it, as long as I do not use the utensil in the interim?

We find a dispute among the poskim concerning this. Some rule that there is no requirement to immerse a utensil as soon as possible (Levush, as explained by Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 323:5),whereas the Maharshal (Yam shel Shelomoh, Beitzah 2:19) explains that this question is dependent on a dispute in the Gemara (Beitzah 17b-18a). The Maharshal concludes that one is required to immerse the utensil as soon as possible, out of concern that one will mistakenly use it before it was immersed. The latter ruling is quoted by other authorities (Elyah Rabbah 323:12).

Better to borrow?

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) explains that the mitzvah of tevilas keilim does not apply to utensils that a Jew borrowed or rented from a non-Jew (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 120:8). The Torah taught that utensils that a Jew acquires require immersing, but not items that are not owned by a Jew. Furthermore, whether a utensil requires immersion is determined by who its owner is and not by who is using it. We will soon see another ramification of this ruling.

The poskim rule that, under circumstances when one cannot immerse utensils, one may transfer ownership of a utensil from a Jew to a non-Jew to avoid immersing it. Therefore, should a Jew own a utensil and have nowhere to immerse it, or if he does not have time before Shabbos or Yom Tov to immerse it, he may give it to a gentile and then borrow it back from the gentile (Mordechai, Beitzah #677; Shulchan Aruch and Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:16). Since the utensil is now owned by a gentile, there is no requirement to immerse it. Consequently, borrowing it from the gentile does not present any problem.

This ruling applies only to utensils that are owned by a non-Jew and borrowed from him by a Jew. However, if a Jew owns a utensil that he has not immersed, another Jew may not borrow or use it without immersing it (Tosafos and Rosh ad loc., both quoting Rashbam). Once the owner is required to immerse the utensil, no other Jew may use it without immersing it first.

Only klei seudah

The Gemara concludes that the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to klei seudah — literally, implements used for a meal. This includes items used to prepare food or to eat. As we will soon discuss, there are some interesting ramifications of this law.

“Rav Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha: ‘One can derive from the verse that one must immerse even brand-new items, because used vessels that were purged in fire have the same kashrus status as brand new, and yet they require immersion.’

Rav Sheishes then asked him: ‘If it is true that the mitzvah of immersing vessels is not because of kashrus concerns, then maybe one is required to immerse even clothing shears?’

Rav Nachman responded: ‘The Torah mentions only vessels that are used for meals (klei seudah)'” (Avodah Zarah 75b).

Rav Sheishes suggested that if the immersion of utensils is not a means of kashering a non-kosher vessel, then perhaps we have many more opportunities to fulfill this mitzvah, and it applies to any type of paraphernalia — even cameras, cellphones and clothing shears! However, the conclusion is that the mitzvah is limited to items used for food.

Kitchen or Leather?

Reuven is a leather worker who purchases a brand-new kitchen knife that he intends to use exclusively for this leather work. Does this knife require immersion in a mikveh?

Although this utensil was manufactured for food use, since Reuven is now the owner and he purchased it for leather work, it is no longer a food utensil.

The early authorities dispute whether someone who borrows the knife from the owner to use it for food is required to immerse it. The primary position contends that the borrower is not required to immerse the knife (Hagahos Ashri, Avodah Zarah, 5:35; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 120:8). This approach understands that the halachic status of a utensil is determined by its owner and not by the person borrowing it. There is, however, a dissenting opinion that contends that since the owner himself would not be allowed to use the knife for food, even temporarily, someone else may not either (Issur Vaheter 58:89, quoted by Shach, Yoreh Deah 120:16). Thus, the latter approach requires that the borrower immerse this knife before using it for food. As a compromise position, some authorities conclude that one should immerse this utensil, but should not recite a brocha before doing so (Shach, Yoreh Deah 120:16).

However…

All this holds true as long as the owner, our leather worker, uses the knife exclusively for non-food use. The owner may not use it for food, even temporarily (Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:8). Furthermore, later authorities note that the Shach implies that, should Reuven decide to use the knife for food, albeit only once, he may not use the knife even for non-food use without first immersing it (Darchei Teshuvah 120:39, quoting Ginzei Elimelech; Sefer TevilaskKeilim, page 104, quoting Pri Eliyahu).

We see from this Shach a very interesting ruling. The halachah is not that food use requires that the vessel be immersed. The halachah is that a food utensil must be immersed before use – no matter what type of use.

This last ruling means that someone who purchased a knife that he intends to immerse, may not use it, even to open a package, before it has been immersed.

We can therefore answer one of our opening questions:

“I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

Although many people may find this ruling to be surprising, according to the Shach, you may not.

The vanilla cruet

At this point, I would like to discuss one of our opening questions, an actual shaylah that I was asked: “We received a gift of a glass cruet, a salad oil dispenser, that we doubt we will ever use for that purpose. We decided, instead, to use it is a flower vase and were told that we do not need to toivel it. Subsequently, we decided that we might use it for soaking vanilla beans and alcohol to make our own natural vanilla extract. Do we need to toivel it?”

This is an interesting question. I agree that if someone receives a vessel that is usually klei seudah, but one does not intend to use it for this purpose, there is no requirement to immerse it. Subsequently, the individual decides that he might use the cruet to process vanilla flavor, a use that would require immersing. (For reasons beyond the scope of this article, I would suggest not reciting a brocha, when immersing the cruet.) According to the Shach, once they decide to use the cruet for making vanilla flavor, not only do they now need to immerse it, but they can no longer use it for anything else. This is because a cruet is inherently a vessel that should require immersion. The only reason they were not required to immerse it until now was because they had decided not to use it for food. But once they decide to use it for food, they may not use it for anything without immersing it.

The salami knife

We can also now address a different question that was asked above: “I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

The answer is that, if this is a knife that was made for food use, one would not be allowed to use it for food without immersing it. On the other hand, if it is a box cutter, which is clearly not meant for food use, we have no evidence that one is required to immerse it. There are sources in halachah that state that an item that is not meant as klei seudah may be used occasionally for food, even by the owner, without requiring tevilah (see, for example, Darchei Teshuvah 120:70, 88).

Klei sechorah — “merchandise”

The halachic authorities note that a storekeeper does not toivel vessels he is planning to sell, since for him they are not klei seudah, but merchandise. Later authorities therefore coined a term “klei sechorah,” utensils used as merchandise, ruling that these items do not require immersion until they are purchased by the person intending to use them (based on Taz, Yoreh Deah 120:10).

In the nineteenth century, a question was raised concerning the definition of klei sechorah. When rail travel became commonplace, enterprising entrepreneurs began selling refreshments at train stations. (No club car on those trains!) A common occurrence was that Jewish vendors would sell beer or other beverages at the stations, which they would serve to their customers by the glassful. The question was raised whether these glasses required immersion and whether one was permitted to drink from them when the vendor presumably had not immersed them. Although it would seem that one may not use them without tevilah, there are authorities who rule that these vessels are considered klei sechorah for the merchant and that, therefore, the customer may use them (Darchei Teshuvah 120:70, 88; Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak #1:44).

According to this approach, a restaurateur or caterer is not required to immerse the utensils with which he serves his guests. Although most authorities reject this approach (Minchas Shlomoh 2:66:14), I have found many places where, based on this heter, hechsherim do not require the owner to toivel his glassware, flatware and other items.

Conclusion

According to Rav Hirsch, metal vessels, which require mankind’s mining, extracting and processing, represent man’s mastery over the earth and its materials. Whereas vessels made of earthenware or wood involve man merely shaping the world’s materials to fit his needs, the manufacture of metal demonstrates man’s creative abilities to utilize natural mineral resources to fashion matter into a usable form. Consuming food, on the other hand, serves man’s most basic physical nature. Use of metal food vessels, then, represents the intellectual aspect of man serving his physical self, which, in a sense, is the opposite of why we were created; to use our physical self to assist our intellect to do Hashem’s will. Specifically, in this instance, the Torah requires that the items hereby produced be immersed in a mikveh, to endow them with increased kedusha before they are put to food-use. This demonstrates that, although one may use one’s intellect for physical purposes, the product of one’s creative power must first be sanctified in order that we focus on the spiritual.

The Haftarah for Pinchas

This week is the next to last week that the Eretz Yisroel community and the chutz la’aretz community are still reading different parshios, still due to the fact that acharon shel Pesach fell on Shabbos. This means that in Eretz Yisroel the haftarah for Parshas Pinchas is not one of the three read during the three weeks.

In most years, Parshas Pinchas falls during the three weeks and, as a result, its haftarah is Divrei Yirmiyahu, the opening words of the book of Yirmiyahu, which is the first of the telasa deparanusa, the three special haftaros we read during the “Three Weeks” of our national mourning (Rishonim quoting Pesikta). This haftarah is usually printed in the chumashim as the haftarah for Parshas Matos.

Since in Eretz Yisroel this is one of the fairly rare years when Parshas Pinchas is read before the fast of the seventeenth of Tamuz, there the haftarah printed in the chumashim for Parshas Pinchas is read. The haftarah, which is from the book of Melachim and begins with the words Ve’yad Hashem, describes how Eliyahu admonishes the wicked monarchs Achav and Izevel. Since the Torah reading and the haftarah reading respectively mention the attributes of zeal demonstrated by Pinchas and Eliyahu, this haftarah is very appropriate for this Shabbos. Furthermore, the Midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, end of Chapter 29; Midrash Rabbah on this week’s parsha) states that Pinchas was Eliyahu, thus providing another reason to read this haftarah on this Shabbos.

It is actually unclear whether the Midrash means that Pinchas and Eliyahu were the same person, particularly since other sources in Chazal identify Eliyahu as being either from the tribe of Binyomin or of Gad (Bereishis Rabbah 71:9), both of which are impossible if Eliyahu was Pinchas, who was a kohen. The Gemara may simply mean that Eliyahu exhibited the same personality traits as Pinchas, since both displayed tremendous zeal in upholding Hashem’s honor.

The haftarah quotes Eliyahu as saying to Hashem: Kano kineisi laHashem Elokei Tzeva’os ki azvu berischa bnei Yisrael, I have acted zealously on behalf of Hashem the G-d of Hosts, for the Children of Israel have forsaken your covenant (Melachim 1:19:10), an allegation Eliyahu soon repeats (ibid. Verse 14). According to the Midrash, Eliyahu accused Bnei Yisrael of abrogating bris milah. As a response, Hashem decreed that Eliyahu will be present at every bris to see that the Jews indeed fulfill this mitzvah. Chazal therefore instituted that there should be a seat of honor for Eliyahu at every bris (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, end of Chapter 29; Zohar 93a).

Indeed, Jews view the mitzvah of bris milah dearly, and have accepted to observe this mitzvah in extremely difficult circumstances. Since the mitzvah of milah is so dear, we celebrate it as a happy occasion even during the three weeks and the nine days, periods of time in which we otherwise are accustomed to mourn. For this reason, the mohel, sandek, and parents of the baby may shave or get a haircut in honor of the bris, and during the Nine Days we serve meat meals in honor of the occasion.

We should also remember that Eliyahu is not only the malach habris, the angel who attends the bris, but also represents Pinchas, the bringer and angel of peace.

Since the discussion for haftarah of Pinchas is fairly short, I am adding another short article about a different, anomalous kerias haTorah situation:

How can this happen?

Kwiz Kwestion:

Someone received revi’i, the fourth aliyah, Shabbos morning, and, later that day, received back-to-back aliyos?

This question is not at all theoretical. I actually experienced it once. How did this happen?

Explaining the question fully provides a bit of a hint at the answer. Ordinarily, the only time someone receives back-to-back aliyos is when there is no levi in shul, in which case the kohen who receives the first aliyah also receives the second aliyah, that usually reserved for a levi. A kohen receives the aliyah because kohanim are members of the tribe of levi, and the same kohen receives the aliyah, rather than spreading the wealth around by giving a different kohen the second aliyah because of a rule ein kor’in lekohen achar kohen “We do not call up two consecutive kohanim.” Chazal ruled that this is prohibited because of concern that someone will think that, after calling up the first kohen, they discovered a halachic problem with his status and therefore needed to call up a different kohen (Gittin 59b).

Now, as a kohen I can tell you that it is a very common occurrence that I receive back-to-back aliyos, one as a kohen and the other bimkom levi. But how did I manage to get revi’i without the gabbai making an error? A kohen always receives either the first aliyah of the Torah, maftir, or acharon. Now, since revi’i is never maftir or acharon, how could a kohen ever receive the aliyah of revi’i?

One Shabbos I attended a family bar mitzvah, where the minyan was only family members. Not only am I a kohen, but so are all my brothers and sons, as well as my nephew, the bachur habar mitzvah. Virtually everyone else in attendance at the minyan made in honor of the bar mitzvah was a kohen. The only non-kohanim in attendance were the bachur’s maternal grandfather, who is a yisroel, and a family friend who is a levi. Thus, the first three aliyos were: a kohen (one of the family members), the levi guest and the maternal grandfather, who received shelishi.

Now is where the fun starts. All other attendees at the minyan were kohanim, and yet we have four more aliyos, plus maftir to give out! What is a gabbai supposed to do?

Fortunately, this question is discussed by the rishonim, with a wide variety of answers. The Beis Yosef cites four opinions what to do for the four remaining aliyos.

1. Call up the same three people who were called up as kohen, levi, and shelishi, as revi’i, chamishi and shishi, and then call up the original kohen for a third time as shevi’i.

2. The yisroel who was called up as shelishi should be called up again for revi’i, chamishi, shishi, and shevi’i since he is the only yisroel in the house.

3. Call up children for the remaining four aliyos.

4. Call up different kohanim for the remaining four aliyos.

What are the reasons behind each of these approaches?

1. Call up the same three people again

Although Chazal required that we call up seven people for aliyos on Shabbos, nowhere does it say that one may not call up the same person twice. As we see from the case when the kohen receives the aliyah of the levi, someone can be called up twice and count as two people receiving aliyos. Thus, our best way to resolve this situation is to call up the same three people again, which avoids calling up two kohanim one after the other. We also avoid calling up a kohen for an aliyah that implies that he is not a kohen, except for the one kohen who already was called up as kohen. Thus, no one should make a mistake that a kohen has any problem with his pedigree.

2. Call the yisroel for five consecutive aliyos

At the time of the Mishnah and Gemara, there was no assigned baal keriyah, and the person who received the aliyah was expected to read for himself. The institution of an assigned baal keriyah began in the time of the rishonim, when it became a common problem that someone called up for an aliyah was unable to read the Torah correctly, thus calling into question whether the community fulfilled the mitzvah of kerias haTorah.

However, even during the days of the Mishnah it occasionally happened that a minyan of Jews did not include seven people who could read the Torah correctly. The Tosefta, a source dating back to the era of the Mishnah but not included in the Mishnah, discusses a case in which there is only one person in the minyan who is capable of reading the Torah. What do we do? The Tosefta (Megillah 3:5) rules that we call this person up to the Torah seven consecutive times in order to fulfill the mitzvah of seven aliyos.

Based on this Tosefta, some explain that since we cannot call up two kohanim one after the other, when we have only one Yisroel in attendance, we call him to the Torah for all the yisroel aliyos (Beis Yosef, based on his understanding of the Mordechai).

3. Call up children

Our practice is that we do not call a child up to the Torah because it is not a sign of respect that a child read the Torah for a community (see Megillah 23a). From this comment, we see that, other than this concern, a child may have an aliyah, even though he is underage to fulfill a mitzvah.

Therefore, Rabbeinu Yeruchem rules that, in the situation at hand, we should call up children for the remaining aliyos. Apparently, he considers this to be a better solution than calling up someone who has already received an aliyah. The only time we can give someone two aliyos is to a kohen when there is no levi in shul. Therefore, our only alternative is to suspend the community honor and call up children for the missing aliyos.

If there are no children in attendance, Rabbeinu Yeruchem rules that we cannot continue the reading of the Torah!

4. Call up consecutive kohanim

All the approaches we have quoted thus far contend that there is never any exception to the rule that one may not call up two kohanim consecutively. However, there are rishonim who dispute this assumption, contending that, when it is obvious to all attendees that the reason you called two kohanim consecutively was because there were no other alternatives, there is no concern that someone will think one of the kohanim has a yichus problem, and therefore Chazal were not gozeir.

The Rashba contends that when everyone in attendance realizes that there are only kohanim in the minyan, we simply call up consecutive kohanim. There is no concern not to call one kohen after another in this instance.

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that the halacha follows the Rashba, and, to the best of my knowledge, this approach is accepted by all late halachic authorities. Thus, we now have answered our opening conundrum: How did I receive revi’i, the fourth aliyah, on Shabbos morning, and, later that day, receive back-to-back aliyos?

Taking Care of the Ill — The Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim

Those of us living in Eretz Yisroel, are reading parshas Korach this week, from which the Gemara cites a source for the mitzvah of bikur cholim. Those living in chutz la’aretz, can certainly find ample reason to study the laws of bikur cholim this week.

Question #1: “Rabbi,” asked Mr. Greenberg, “My neighbor, Mrs. Friedman, is having an operation. Is it appropriate for me to visit her?”

Question #2: Does Dr. Strauss fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim when he makes his hospital rounds?

Question #3: “My sister-in-law is hospitalized for a few days for a minor procedure. I should really visit her, but I just can’t find the time. Is it halachically sufficient for me to call her?”

Based on a pasuk in parshas Korach, the Gemara (Nedarim 39b) teaches: “There is an allusion to the mitzvah of bikur cholim in the Torah: When Moshe declares, ‘If these people (Korach’s party) will die like most people do, and the destiny of most people will happen to them, then Hashem did not send me.’ How do we see an allusion to the mitzvah of bikur cholim in the pasuk? Moshe declared: If these people will die like most people do – if they will become ill and bedridden and people will come to inquire about their needs (in other words, illness provides an opportunity for people to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim) – then people will say ‘Hashem did not send me.’” Thus, the Gemara cites this week’s parsha as one of the sources in the Torah for the mitzvah of bikur cholim since Moshe specifically asked that Korach and his party not die in the manner that most people, where this a chance to achieve this important mitzvah.

Another allusion to bikur cholim is in the beginning of Parshas Vayeira, where is says that Hashem visited Avraham Avinu three days after his Bris Milah. Rashi points out that Hashem was performing bikur cholim, visiting and providing care for the ill. In the same way, by taking care of the ill, we fulfill the mitzvah of emulating Hashem’s ways, in addition to the special mitzvah of bikur cholim (Sotah 14a). Thus, physicians, nurses or other medical professionals should have in mind before every visit or appointment that they are performing two mitzvos, one of emulating Hashem, and the other of bikur cholim. Since we rule that mitzvos tzerichos kavanah, to fulfill a mitzvah requires being cognizant of that fact, any medical professional gains much merit by being aware of this every day and all day.

Every community should have an organization devoted to the needs of the sick, and it is a tremendous merit to be involved in organizing and participating in such a wonderful chesed project (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

The Kli Yakar (Bamidbar 16:29) offers an additional reason for fulfilling bikur cholim to benefit the visitor. Seeing someone ill influences the visitor to think about the importance of doing teshuvah. And this influence provides extra merit for the sick person, since he caused someone else to do teshuvah!

The Gemara (Nedarim 40a) reports that when one of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples was ill, no one came to check his welfare. Then Rabbi Akiva entered his dwelling, cleaned it and sprinkled water on the floor (to prevent dust from rising), and the student exclaimed, “Rabbi Akiva, you have brought me back to life!” After this experience, Rabbi Akiva taught that someone who visits the ill is considered to have saved his life!

WHY “BIKUR” CHOLIM?

What does bikur cholim mean?

It is worth noting that although “bikur” means “visit” in modern Hebrew, the original meaning of “bikur” is not “visit” but “checking.” In other words, the actual mitzvah of bikur cholim is to check which of the sick person’s needs have not been attended to (Toras HaAdam).

There are two main aspects of this mitzvah:

I. Taking care of the physical and emotional needs of someone who is ill.

II. Praying for the recovery of the ill person (Toras HaAdam, based on Nedarim 40a).

I. TAKING CARE OF PHYSICAL NEEDS

In addition to raising the sick person’s spirits by showing concern, the visitor should also ensure that the physical, financial, and medical needs of the ill person are properly being attended to, as well as other logistical concerns that may be troubling him/her. Often, well-meaning people make the effort to visit the sick, but fail to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim properly, because they fail to take care of the choleh’s needs (Gesher HaChayim).

Always cheer up the choleh (Gesher HaChayim).  This is included in attending to his emotional needs.

The visit is to benefit the choleh. In most circumstances, a visit should be short and not tire out or be uncomfortable for the ill person. Sometimes the sick person wants to rest, but feels obligated to converse with a visitor (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 335:4). In such cases, visitors think they are performing a mitzvah, while, unfortunately, they are actually doing the opposite. It is important to remember that the entire focus of bikur cholim is on the sick person’s needs and not on the visitor’s desire to feel noble or important. I remember my mother, a”h, having such guests during one of her hospital stays; although she kept hinting that she wanted to rest, they didn’t catch on and stayed put. They thought they were performing a kind deed, while, in reality, they were harming a sick person who desperately needed to rest.

OVERNIGHT CARE

One of the greatest acts of chesed is to stay overnight with a choleh (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 335:3; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, #4). A similar act of bikur cholim and true chesed is to stay overnight with a hospitalized child to enable parents to get some proper sleep and keep their family’s life in order.

A person can fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim even a hundred times a day (Nedarim 39b). If one frequently pops one’s head into one’s sick child’s bedroom to see how the child is doing, or periodically drops in to visit a shut-in, one fulfills a separate mitzvah each time, so long as it does not become burdensome to the choleh. Similarly, a nurse fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim each time he/she checks on a patient, and, therefore, she should have intent to do this for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah.

This applies even if the nurse is paid, because the proscription against being paid to do a mitzvah applies only to the mitzvah’s minimum requirement. Once one does more than this minimum, one can be paid for the extra time one spends. The same certainly applies to someone paid to stay overnight with a sick patient.

IS THERE AN OPTIMUM TIME OF DAY TO VISIT?

The Gemara states that one should not visit a sick person during the first quarter of the day, since one usually looks healthier in the morning and the visitor may not be motivated to pray on behalf of the ill person. One should also not visit a sick person at the end of the day, when he looks much sicker and one might give up hope. Therefore, one should visit an ill person during the middle part of the day (see Nedarim 40a, and Ahavas Chesed 3:3). Rambam offers a different reason for this halacha, explaining that at other times of the day, visitors might interfere with the attendants and medical personnel who are taking care of the choleh (Hilchos Aveil 14:5).

Thus, the ideal time for visiting an ill person is in the middle of the day, unless he is receiving medical treatment at that time.

Despite the above, the custom is to visit the ill person, regardless of the time of the day. Why is this so? The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 335:8) explains that the Gemara’s visiting times are advisory rather than obligatory. The Gemara is saying that one should visit the ill person at the time most beneficial for his care, which is usually the afternoon, either because this does not interfere with medical care or because it is the best time to detect the patient’s medical status. However, this is only advice and can be tempered by other practical concerns.

WHAT IF THE ILL PERSON IS RECEIVING SUBSTANDARD CARE?

In this instance, one should try to upgrade the choleh’s care without agitating him in the process (Gesher HaChayim).

WHOM TO VISIT FIRST

Usually, it is a greater mitzvah to visit a poor choleh than a wealthy one. This is because there is often no one else to care for the poor person’s needs (Sefer Chassidim #361). Additionally, he may need more help because of his lack of finances, and he is more likely to be in financial distress because of his inability to work (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

If two people need the same amount of care and one of them is a talmid chacham, the talmid chacham should be attended to first (Sefer Chassidim #361). If the talmid chacham is being attended to adequately and the other person is not, one should first take care of the other person (Sefer Chassidim #361).

CROSS-GENDER VISITING

Should a man pay a hospital visit to a female non-relative, or vice versa?

The halacha states that a man may attend to another man who is suffering from an intestinal disorder, but not to a woman suffering from such a problem, whereas a woman may attend to either a man or a woman suffering from an intestinal disorder (Mesechta Sofrim Chapter 12). This implies that one may attend to the needs of the opposite gender in all other medical situations (Shach, Yoreh Deah 335:9; Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 335:4; Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 335:11 and Shu’t Zakan Aharon 2:76).

There is a famous story of Rav Aryeh Levin, the tzaddik of Yerushalayim. He was once concerned that a certain widow who had been told not to fast on Yom Kippur would disobey orders, he personally visited her on Yom Kippur and boiled water for a cup of tea to ensure that she drank. In this way, he fulfilled the mitzvah of bikur cholim on Yom Kippur in a unique way (A Tzaddik in Our Time).

However, some halachic authorities distinguish between attending to a sick person’s needs, and visiting, contending that although a woman may usually provide a man’s nursing needs and vice versa, there is no requirement for a woman to visit an ill man (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, and Zichron Meir pg. 71 footnote 24 quoting Shu’t Vayaan Avrohom, Yoreh Deah #25 and others). Other authorities contend that when one can assume that the woman’s medical needs are provided, a man should not visit her, because of tzniyus concerns (Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 3:38:3; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, #16). Instead, the man should inquire about her welfare and pray for her. I suggest asking your rav or posek for direction in these situations.

II. PRAYING FOR THE ILL

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 335) writes, “It is a great mitzvah to visit the ill, since this causes the visitor to pray on the sick person’s behalf, which revitalizes him. Furthermore, since the visitor sees the ill person, the visitor checks to see what the ill person needs.” We see that Beis Yosef considers praying for the ill an even greater part of the mitzvah than attending to his needs, since he first mentions praying and then refers to attending to the other needs as “furthermore.”

Someone who visits a sick person without praying for his recovery fails to fulfill all the requirements of the mitzvah (Toras HaAdam; Rama 335:4). Therefore, physicians, nurses, and aides who perform bikur cholim daily should accustom themselves to pray for their sick patients, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim. A simple method of accomplishing this is to discreetly recite a quick prayer (such as “Hashem, please heal this person among the other ill Jewish people [b’soch she’ar cholei yisrael]”) as one leaves the person’s room. (A doctor in his office can recite the same quick prayer.)

MUST ONE PRAY FOR A SICK PERSON BY NAME?

When praying in a sick person’s presence, one does not need to mention his name, and one may recite the prayer in any language. The Gemara explains that this is because the Shechinah, the Divine presence, rests above the choleh’s head (Shabbos 12b). However, when the ill person is not present, one should pray specifically in Hebrew and should mention the person’s name (Toras HaAdam; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 335:5). If one cannot pray in Hebrew, one may do so in English or any other language except Aramaic (see Taz, Yoreh Deah 335:4).

[Incidentally, since the Shechinah is in the choleh’s presence, visitors should act in a dignified manner (Shabbos 12b; Shl”a). This includes both their behavior and their mode of dress.]

Why must one pray in Hebrew when the ill person is not present? Rashi explains that in such a case, when one prays for an individual, angels have to transport the prayer to the Divine presence (the Shechinah) – these angels transport only prayers recited in Hebrew and not those recited in Aramaic (Rashi, Shabbos 12b s.v. Deshechinah). However, when praying in the presence of the sick person, one may pray in any language, since the Shechinah is nearby and the prayer does not require the angels to transport it on high (Shabbos 12b).

MAY ONE PRAY IN ENGLISH FOR THE ILL?

This explains the difference between Hebrew and Aramaic. What about other languages? Do the angels “transport” prayer recited in a different language?

To answer this question, we must first explain why angels do not transport Aramaic prayers?

The halachic authorities dispute why the angels do not convey prayers recited in Aramaic. Some contend that angels communicate only in Hebrew and, furthermore, only convey a prayer that they understand (Tosafos, Shabbos 12b s.v. She’ayn). According to this approach, the angels convey only Hebrew prayers. However, other authorities contend that the angels do not convey Aramaic prayers because they view this language as corrupted Hebrew and not a real language (Rosh, Berachos 2:2). Similarly, the angels will not convey a prayer recited in slang or expressed in an undignified way. According to the latter opinion, the angels will convey a prayer recited in any proper language, and one may pray in English for an ill person even if he is not present.

The Shulchan Aruch quotes both opinions, but considers the first opinion to be the primary approach (Orach Chayim 101:4). However, in Yoreh Deah 335:5, the Shulchan Aruch omits the second opinion completely. The commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch raise this point, and conclude that the Shulchan Aruch felt that praying for an ill person is such a serious matter that one should certainly follow the more stringent approach and pray only in Hebrew when the choleh is not present (Taz, Yoreh Deah 335:4). Therefore, one should not pray for an individual sick person’s needs in any language other than Hebrew. Only if one is unable to pray in Hebrew, may one rely on the second opinion and pray in any language other than Aramaic.

DOES ONE FULFILL BIKUR CHOLIM OVER THE TELEPHONE?

To answer this question, let us review the reasons for this mitzvah and see if a telephone call fulfills them. One reason to visit the ill is to see if they have any needs that are not being attended to. Although a phone call might discover this, being physically present at the bedside is usually a better method of ascertaining what is needed. The second reason one visits the ill is to motivate the visitor to pray on their behalf. Again, although one may be motivated by a phone call, it is rarely as effective as a visit. Furthermore, although a phone call can cheer up the choleh and make him feel important, a personal visit accomplishes this far more effectively. Therefore, most aspects of this mitzvah require a personal visit. However, in cases where one cannot actually visit the choleh, for example, when a visit is uncomfortable for the patient or unwanted, one should call (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:223; Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 2:128). Some authorities contend that it is better for a man to call, rather than visit, a hospitalized or bed-ridden woman who is not a relative, since it is difficult for an ill person to maintain the appropriate level of tzniyus (Chelkas Yaakov 3:38:3).

ALWAYS PRAY FOR GOOD HEALTH

A healthy person should daven for continuing good health, because it is far easier to pray that one remain healthy than to pray for a cure after one is already ill. This is because a healthy person remains well so long as no bad judgment is brought against him in the heavenly tribunal, whereas an ill person needs zechuyos to recover. This latter instance is not desirable for two reasons — first, the choleh may not have sufficient zechuyos, and second, even if he does, he will lose some of his zechuyos in order to get well.

Before taking medicine or undergoing other medical treatment one should recite a short prayer: “May it be Your will, Hashem my G-d, that this treatment will heal, for You are a true Healer” (Magen Avraham 230:6; Mishnah Berurah 230:6, based on Berachos 60a).

People who fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim are promised tremendous reward in Olam Haba, in addition to many rewards in this world (Shabbos 127a). Someone who fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim properly is considered as if he saved people’s lives and is rewarded by being spared any severe punishment (Nedarim 40a).

May Hashem send refuah shleimah to all the cholim of Klal Yisrael!

Do We Really Want to Be Tahor?

Question #1: Tanner Training

“In my work, I tan animal hides. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

Question #2: Amorphous Amphibians

“What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

Introduction:

Since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still lies in ruins, the laws of tumah and taharah do not affect our daily lives significantly. As a result, many people do not approach the study of these laws enthusiastically, and do not pay adequate attention to the Torah readings about this topic. Yet, our prayers for Moshiach to come at any moment require that we be fully knowledgeable of the laws of tumah and taharah and that we are prepared to observe them. As the Gemara teaches, in the days of Chizkiyahu Hamelech, they searched the entire Land of Israel, from the northern to the southern tips, and could not find a single man, woman or child who was not completely conversant in every detail of the laws of tumah and taharah (Sanhedrin 94b). The situation should be this way today. This is all the more so, since we have a responsibility to comprehend the weekly parshah, and some of these laws are discussed in parshas Shemini.

Someone who becomes tamei may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim, foods that have sanctity.

The following passage of this week’s parshah mentions eleven different categories of the laws of tumah, which I have numbered in the selection below to facilitate explaining them afterward. The Torah writes:

Among animals that walk on all fours (1), anything that walks upon its forepaws* is impure (tamei). Whoever touches the carcass of such an animal will be tamei until evening. And whoever carries their carcass must wash his clothes, and he is tamei until evening, because these animals are tamei for you.

And the following creatures that creep on the ground (2) are tamei for you: The weasel,** the mouse, and the various species of toad. Also the hedgehog, the koach,*** the lizard, the snail and the mole. These are tamei to you among all the creeping animals – whoever touches them after they are dead will be tamei until evening. And anything that falls upon them after they are dead will become tamei, whether it is a wooden vessel (3) or a garment (4) or leather (5) or sackcloth (6) – any vessel with which work is performed (7). It must be immersed in water, and then it remains tamei until evening, at which point it becomes tahor.

Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei “creeping creatures”) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel (8), whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel). And any edible food (9) that had water touch it can become tamei. Similarly, any liquid (10) that can be drunk will become tamei, if inside such a vessel. Furthermore, anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove (11) should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei (Vayikra 11:27-35).

The Torah describes many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination), each with its own laws. Every word used here has a very specific halachic meaning. Let us explore some of the laws of the different categories mentioned.

(1) Neveilah

When discussing someone who touched an animal carcass (neveilah), the Torah specifies that a person becomes tamei whether he touched it or carried it, but notes a halachic difference between the neveilah that was touched or was carried. Germane to carrying the carcass, which is called tumas masa, the Torah says that he must wash his clothes, but omits this detail when discussing someone who touches a carcass, which is called tumas maga. We see here a difference in halachah between the person who carries neveilah and one who touches it, without moving it. One who carries neveilah contaminates any utensils, food or beverage susceptible to tumah that he touches while he carries it. The clothes that he wears are used by the Torah as an example of any item that he touches while carrying or moving the neveilah. This tumah is called tumah be’chiburin, literally, tumah by connection. Any keilim, utensils or appliances, that now become tamei will require immersion in a mikveh or spring, and will become tahor again at the subsequent nightfall. (There is one type of utensil that is not affected by tumah be’chiburin — earthenware vessels that were touched by a person while he carried a neveilah remain tahor. Also, tumah be’chiburin of neveilah does not contaminate people – therefore someone touching the person who is carrying the neveilah remains tahor.) However, someone who touches a neveilah without causing it to move does not contaminate something he touches at the same time. Whereas he himself becomes tamei and remains tamei, until he immerses in a mikveh or spring and then awaits nightfall afterwards, what he touches at the time remains tahor.

By the way, for those in chutz la’aretz, becoming tamei by moving or touching neveilah is not an uncommon situation. For example, someone who moves a package of packaged non-kosher meat in the supermarket has just carried neveilah and made himself and his clothes tamei (although, in all likelihood, they were already tamei).

Tanner training

At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions:

“In my work, I tan animal hides. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

The questioner realizes that someone who tans leather will make himself tamei, if he handles the carcasses of animals. However, once the flesh is removed, the hide itself does not generate tumah (see Mishnah Chullin 117b). Furthermore, even if our questioner handles neveilos, he can make himself tahor through immersion in a mikveh. It is indeed true that he may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim once he becomes tamei, but this does not preclude his earning his livelihood that way.

(2) Sheretz

The Torah lists eight creeping creatures that generate tumah, if one touches them after they are dead. As the Ibn Ezra already notes, we are uncertain as to the exact identity of these eight creatures. When Eliyahu arrives, he will identify them, so that we can properly observe these laws. If we follow the translation that I provided above, based on Rashi and other traditional commentaries, the eight include an interesting mixture of small mammals (mostly rodents), reptiles, amphibians and mollusks. All usually lie close to the ground, and most are small. However, if the koach is identified correctly as a monitor, it is the largest of the lizards and can grow as long as ten feet.

Yet, if our translation is correct, other small creatures, such as snakes, frogs, insects and other rodents are not included under the heading of tumas sheratzim. Although it may not seem very aesthetically pleasing to touch other dead insects, rodents or other small creatures, one does not become tamei when one touches them. One should wash one’s hands because of sanitary reasons, but being sanitary and becoming tamei are dissimilar concepts.

By the way, the word tzav, which is used in Modern Hebrew for turtle, is one of the sheratzim, but means toad, according to Rashi. I have no idea who decided to use this word for turtle, but it is not consistent with halachic authorities. There is no reason to assume that a turtle is tamei.

Amorphous amphibians

At this point, let us refer back to one of our opening questions: “What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

A zoologist will note several differences between them, but this is a halachic article. According to Rashi (Vayikra 11:29), a toad is one of the eight sheratzim that are tamei, and a frog is not (see Rashi, Shemos 7:29 and also see Mishnayos Taharos 5:1,4 and Rash and Bartenura).

Laws of sheratzim

Regarding the tumah of sheratzim, the Torah states that one who touches them becomes tamei, but it mentions nothing about the person’s clothing requiring immersion, nor does it state that someone becomes tamei when he carries them. This is because a sheretz makes someone tamei only if he touches it, and not if he moves it without touching. Furthermore, his clothing or anything else he touches while touching the sheretz does not become tamei, unless it is in direct physical contact with the sheretz.

Toad vs. frog

Why did the Torah declare only these eight creatures to be tamei, but no others?

This is a question that we can ask, but probably not answer, other than to accept the gezeiras hakasuv, the declaration of the Torah, and observe it as Hashem’s will. Although we endeavor to explain the reasons for mitzvos, we realize that we can never assume that we understand the reason for a mitzvah. In the instance of most mitzvos, we explore possible reasons for a mitzvah in order to enhance our experience when we observe it. This we do, when we can. However, I have not found any commentary that endeavors to explain what it is about these eight specific creeping creatures, but not any of the others, that generates tumah.

Utensils that become tamei

Returning to our passage, after mentioning the tumah of neveilah and sheretz, the Torah lists eight categories of items that become tamei from contact with neveilah and sheretz. Among the specific items mentioned are: (3) wooden vessels, (4) garments, (5) leather items, (6) sackcloth, (7) vessels described by an obscure clause, “any vessel with which work is performed,” (8) earthenware, (9) food and (10) beverages. Each of these categories has its own specific laws, all of which are hinted at in the pasuk. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I will divide this list into three groups. First we will discuss items 3-7, which I will call, collectively, “immersible utensils.”

(3) Wooden utensils

Wooden vessels become tamei when they have a receptable which can hold liquid (called a beis kibul) or when people use them and place items atop them, such as a table (Rambam, Hilchos Keilim 4:1). These ideas are intimated by the Torah when it describes wooden vessels.

(4-5) Garments and leather

All types of garments are susceptible to tumah, although there is a dispute among late authorities concerning whether synthetic fabrics can become tamei.

(6) Sacks

Yes, I wrote sacks, not socks. Sackcloth means something manufactured from woven goat’s hair or animal hair, such as from the tail-hair of cows (Sifra). In general, goat hair is too coarse for use as clothing, but was used in earlier generations similar to the way that we would use burlap, as a bag or sack for storage or transportation. (There are varieties of goat, such as cashmere and mohair, that produce extremely fine wool used for garments, but most goats do not.)

(7) From slingshots to tefillin

The Torah mentions that any vessel with which work is performed can become tamei from a sheretz. What is included in this category? The Sifra explains that this verse teaches that the following three items become tamei: The sling of a slingshot, tefillin, and the envelope in which one places an amulet.

What do slingshots have in common with tefillin and envelopes?

These are three items that contain a beis kibul, a receptacle to hold something, yet someone might think that they do not qualify as “vessels.” The Torah is teaching that these are considered to be receptacles, or “vessels,” to become tamei. In the case of the sling, it is meant to hold the marble, stone or other projectile, albeit for a very brief period of time. In the case of tefillin, the batim of the tefillin contain the parshiyos, and similarly in the case of an amulet.

(8) Earthenware

Note that I have separated earthenware and not included it under the same category as I treated the other utensils. This is because earthenware has many halachic differences, both lenient and stringent, from all other utensils.

All other utensils fall under one of two categories:

(A) Utensils that do not become tamei, which is a topic we will not be discussing in this article.

(B) Utensils that do become tamei, but which can then become tahor again, after they are immersed in a mikveh or spring. This latter categoryis called klei shetifah, literally, immersible utensils.

(C) Earthenware vessels fall under a third category, because once they become tamei, the only way they can become tahor again is by breaking them. Immersing them in a mikveh or spring does not make them tahor.

How is earthenware different?

There are also several other ways whereby halachah treats earthenware vessels differently from how it treats immersible utensils. The section of the Torah that I quoted above alludes to four of the ways that earthenware vessels are different from immersible utensils.

Contaminate from outside

(I) Immersible utensils become contaminated when they come in contact with neveilah, sheretz or other tamei sources, regardless as to whether they are touched on their internal surface or on their outside. However, if something tamei touched the outside of an earthenware vessel, it remains tahor. An earthenware vessel contracts tumah only from its inside, and only when it has a beis kibul — an area that can service as a “container” to hold liquid. As a result, a flat earthenware board or an earthenware fork cannot become tamei since it has no “inside” that holds liquid.

Immersion does not help

(II) As I mentioned above, another way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that once they become tamei, there is no means of making them tahor again, other than breaking them.

Airspace

(III) A third way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that they become tamei if a tamei source, such as a sheretz or neveilah, is suspended inside the airspace of the earthenware vessel, even if the sheretz or neveilah does not touch the vessel. Halachically, there is no difference between the airspace of an earthenware vessel and touching it on the inside – either way makes the earthenware vessel tamei.

Contaminating from the inside

(IV) A fourth way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that a tamei earthenware vessel spreads tumah to any food or beverage that is inside its airspace, even if the food or beverage never touched the vessel directly.

These four laws regarding earthenware vessels are all taught in a few words in the pasuk that I mentioned above: Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei creatures) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel, whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel).

The Torah mentions that an earthenware vessel contracts tumah only when something falls inside it, and, furthermore, it does not say that the tamei substance must actually touch the earthenware vessel. Also, note that what is inside the earthenware vessel becomes tamei, even if it did not touch the vessel. And, lastly, upon becoming tamei, the Torah mentions only one solution for the earthenware vessel –breaking it. There is no other way to make it tahor.

(11) Ovens and stoves

Let us return to the pesukim quoted above. At this point, we will discuss other halachos germane to earthenware vessels. The above-quoted passage states: Anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei.

The ovens of the era of the Torah and Chazal were made of earthenware. Their shape was somewhat similar to a large donut, meaning they were completely open on top and bottom. The open bottom was placed over a hollow in the ground, and then the outside of the oven was lined with mud or clay to insulate it well. Fuel was placed inside the oven and kindled by means of an opening in the side. The food being cooked or baked was placed inside either through this opening or from on top. When they were used this way as ovens, the open top was covered, usually with a piece of earthenware. When these ovens were used as stoves, the pots of food were placed on the open top.

My reasons for explaining these facts is not as an archaeologist, but so that we can understand better both the pasuk of the Torah and the halachah. Although ovens and stoves were made of earthenware, the Torah mentions them under a different heading. This is because other earthenware vessels become tamei only when they have a beis kibul, a receptacle. Following this definition, earthenware ovens and stoves should not become tamei, since they have no bottom. The Torah teaches that ovens and stoves are susceptible to tumah, and have the rules of other earthenware vessels, notwithstanding the fact that they have no beis kibul.

There are halachic ramifications of this distinction, but we will not discuss that in this article. The intrepid reader is referred to a halachic discussion in Ohalos 12:1, and the commentaries thereon.

Conclusion

This article has served as an introduction to some of the basic rules of tumah and taharah, particularly as they relate to utensils. We hope and pray to be able to observe all of these laws soon.

* This translation follows Malbim.

** With the exception of the koach, our translation follows Rashi’s commentary.

*** Most commentators identify this either with the chameleon or with the monitor, both of which are varieties of lizard.

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